New Jackson County Sheriff Brent Kilburg said ensuring all citizens are treated equally and fairly under the law will be a top priority for his department. 

Kilburg said he plans to ensure that by reviewing policies and procedures, implementing standard protocols, enhancing communication, increasing training – and by setting an example with his own conduct.

In an interview with the Maquoketa Sentinel-Press last week, Kilburg said he plans to build relationships with the existing staff and develop a “new culture” while focusing on the future, not the past.

“I feel there might be a culture change we might have to steer,” but any changes would be gradual, he said.

Kilburg was joined in the interview by Jim Kraker, 58, whom he plans to hire as chief deputy. 

Kraker’s appointment was expected to be approved Tuesday morning at the Board of Supervisors meeting, after the Sentinel-Press deadline.

After getting to know sheriff’s office personnel, Kilburg said the next step is examining and updating office policies to establish a standard operating procedure for all to follow. These policies may include issues from how and when to use body cameras to when to keep an inmate in handcuffs.

“We need to ensure we have policies to begin with,” Kilburg said. Without them, “that’s how the public gets put in danger, when there’s not a standard operating procedure.”

Increased and shared trainings will advance deputies’ skills as well as communication between law enforcement agencies, Kilburg said. He’s already spoken with the Maquoketa Police Department about sharing future trainings.

“That puts everyone on the same sheet of music (on how to respond and procedures to follow when responding to a mutual call) and helps our communication with each other,” Kilburg said.

The sheriff specifically prioritized policies and training on the use of force and the use of law enforcement tools such as guns, Tasers, nightsticks, etc.

De-escalation training, which means learning to decrease the intensity of potentially dangerous situations, is another high priority, Kilburg said. 

“We call it verbal judo, trying to de-escalate with words first,” he explained. “A lot of times people are just upset” and need to talk out the issue.

De-escalation techniques have become a focus for many law enforcement agencies around the country following a series of highly publicized officer-involved deaths in recent years.

Kilburg said special or favorable treatment of fellow officers of the law – known by the euphemism of “professional courtesy” within the law enforcement community – would not be tolerated.

“We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” he said, noting that disinterested third parties would be brought in to investigate such alleged activities should they occur. “There aren’t two classes of society here. …If it’s wrong for one person to do, it’s wrong for everyone to do.”

New deputies and a jail project

Kilburg walked into his new office with two slots to fill. Kraker will replace the retired Steve Schroeder as chief deputy. 

Kilburg also must hire a deputy to replace Kody Sieverding, who recently resigned. The county’s Civil Service Commission recommended four candidates for the role, and Kilburg will conduct interviews to fill the slot.

The supervisors already promoted Scott Heiar, Preston police chief and part-time sheriff’s deputy, to full-time deputy. He fills the empty slot left by Randy Manning’s retirement at the end of the year.

Heiar, 32, of Preston, grew up in Bellevue and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Dubuque. 

The City of Preston hired Heiar as a part-time officer in 2010. He worked full-time as a correctional officer for the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office from 2012 to 2014 until he accepted a full-time job with the Preston Police Department and served as chief for the past six years.

Meanwhile, the new sheriff has begun giving more input to county supervisors on plans for the proposed new county jail. Jackson County voters will, for the third time, vote on bond referendum on the matter March 2. The latest proposal calls for the county to borrow up to $5.9 million. 

Kilburg said he has long supported Jackson County building a new jail.