The past week has been a whirlwind of activity for Jeff Richards.
First, he was appointed as the Franklin County Republican Central Committee’s nominee to serve as county sheriff. Next, he began preparing resignations to both the Overland Park Police Department and the Ottawa City Commission. And finally, on Wednesday morning, Richards raised his right hand in the Franklin County Commission Chambers and officially was sworn into office as the area’s top lawman.
“It’s been fast,” Richards, a more than 20-year veteran of law enforcement, said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s very humbling to have the support of people and not just the committee that elected me, but there’s been an outpouring of support from the community. It’s nice.”
Late Tuesday afternoon — only a few minutes after receiving official approval from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to become sheriff — Richards resigned from a nine-year stint as a detective for the Overland Park Police Department. The department, he said, organized a farewell barbecue earlier that afternoon and its members stayed late to file his resignation paperwork.
“[The department] was very helpful and very gracious,” Richards said. “The [Overland Park police] chief took the time and stayed there to receive my resignation and he accepted that at close of business [Tuesday]. And all the personnel people stayed late to take care of that for me.”
Asked how the Franklin County community has responded to his new role as sheriff, Richards said residents have been supportive and kind. An Ottawa resident since 2000, Richards said the words of encouragement have been nice to hear.
“[Franklin County community members] have been letting me know that I have their support,” Richards said, “that they trust my decisions and that they respect my integrity — things that have made me feel good about taking the position.”
The sheriff position became vacant when Jeff Curry, who was elected sheriff in November after a two-year appointment, resigned the post April 1 amid criminal allegations.
During The Franklin County Republican Central Committee’s April 4 special convention to appoint the county’s next sheriff, Richards said he hoped to rebuild public trust and improve the sheriff’s office’s overall performance. Part of that involves the re-evaluation of procedural matters within the office, he said.
“After [the administrative paperwork] is out of the way, we can start evaluating how we do business, what the processes are and take an objective view of them and say ‘this is good’ or ‘we can improve on this,’” he said. “I want to make the department the best it can be to provide the best service for the county.”
As part of the trust rebuilding process, Richards said, he plans to eliminate the sheriff’s office’s public information officer position and instead speak directly to media. Removing that intermediary, he said, will help dissolve the appearance of a hurdle to public information.
“There’s been the perception that having a [public information officer] was kind of a buffer or barrier to access and that’s not my style,” Richards said, adding that he plans to run for the office in 2014. “I’ll fill that role and if there’s something that the public needs to know about, then I’m the guy to call.”