After 30 years serving in the Fairview Heights Police Department, Nick Gailius recently retired as Chief and turned his attention to fighting crime on a larger scale.
In a recent interview, Gailius shared his vision for how he would lead as St. Clair County Sheriff if elected in November. He's running as a Republican against incumbent Rick Watson, a Democrat, who has served since 2012, first by appointment and then elected in 2014.
Gailius contends that crime is a significant problem in the county and that it has been spreading for some time. What alarms him is the county's homicide rate which is the highest in the state on a per capita basis - 35 percent higher than Chicago's Cook County.
"Many will say that violent crime is isolated to pockets of the county," he said, "But, what we know about crime is that criminals go to where they can victimize."
He said St. Clair County's violent crime rate is "even more staggering" when compared to neighboring Madison County, which he describes as essentially the same size and as part of the St. Louis metroplex.
Citing statistics from Data USA, Gailius said the violent crime rate per capita in Madison County is 217.9 compared to St. Clair County's rate of 749.2, meaning that a person is almost three-and-a-half times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime in St. Clair County than in Madison County. For homicides, he said Madison County has a rate of 3.8 and St. Clair County has a rate of 14.9, nearly four times greater.
Why the difference? Gailius said that staffing of patrol deputies while Watson has been in office has gone down approximately 17 percent between 2012 and 2018, according to the county's appropriation budget, figures which do not take into account deputies assigned to Metrolink as they are dedicated only to patrol there and are paid by Metro.
Watson has been contacted for a similar profile in how he plans to lead in a subsequent term.
Gailius, in the meantime, said that on an operational level it is important to understand how many deputies are assigned to patrol duties versus special assignments. In comparing St. Clair County operations to Madison County's, Gailius said that as of December 2017, Madison County has a 69 percent greater patrol effort with 44 deputies assigned to patrol compared to St. Clair County's 26.
"I have heard stories from deputies that there are some weekend nights that they only have three or four deputies patrolling all of St. Clair County," Gailius said.
Strong patrolling should be the core mission of the sheriff's department, he said, from which "flows all other efforts."
"Sadly, our deputies are so short-handed on the road, they can do little but respond from one call for service to another," he said. "They have no time to focus on crime deterrence and positive citizen interactions, which are needed to both reduce crime and reduce the fear of crime."
In terms of how he believes he could make a difference, Gailius said it would be "leading from the front."
"I intend to be out on the streets with the deputies in order to understand the needs of the citizens and the needs of the deputies," he said. "Our deputies need to understand the expectations they must meet, including upholding the U.S. and State constitutions, treating all citizens fairly and with respect, and remaining professional at all times. They should understand that our core missions are primary – providing road patrol, maintaining a jail, and maintaining courthouse security.
He said that deputies also need a "champion" who is not reluctant to demand appropriate funding from county leaders who set budgets.
"The deputies need to know that their sheriff will fight for their needs, whether that be staffing, appropriate pay, or modern and functioning equipment," he said. "The deputies and all the employees of the sheriff’s office must know that they are considered the organization’s greatest assets."
As for strategy in fighting crime, Gailius said he would adopt approaches for data-based - which identifies where problems are and what needs to be addressed - and evidence-based - which is research as to what is effective in modern police patrolling tactics.
He said he would enact hot-spot policing that focuses patrol energy where problems are and use a "focused deterrence" strategy which recognizes that a small amount of the population commits a large percentage of crime, and then zero in on those known to be repeat violent offenders or at high risk of violent crime.
"We will work to discourage them from committing crime by laying down certain repercussions for their acts," he said. "And, we will work closely with all other parts of the criminal justice system to ensure those who are repeat offenders are taken off the streets."
He said he'd also like to bring communities and police agencies in the county together to establish a "real time crime information center" that would help create economy of scale and provide better services.
The real time crime center, he said, would feature "a robust" security camera system throughout the county that would be monitored in real time from a single command center.
The project would require outside funding sources from grants and community support, he said, but that it is a goal "we should earnestly attempt to reach."
Gailius also identified jail operations as another priority of concern, pointing out that medical costs are 50 percent higher in St. Clair County versus Madison County.
In most recently available statistics, St. Clair County has budgeted $1.4 million for jail medical costs for 412 "maximum" beds; Madison County has a budget of $676,000 for 312 beds, translating into $3,392 per bed for St. Clair County and $2,167 per bed for Madison County, Gailius said.
"We need to understand why these costs are 50 percent higher in St. Clair County than Madison County on a comparative basis," he said.