The contest pits Sheriff John Whetsel, a Democrat who is running for his fifth consecutive term, against 20-year law-enforcement veteran and U.S. Marshal Service special deputy Darrell Sorrels.
While Whetsel has a definite edge in fundraising — totaling around $333,000 against Sorrels’ $28,000, as of this writing — Sorrels is a Republican in one of the most Republican-friendly states in the nation.
Sorrels retired as a patrol supervisor from the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department in 2007 and is now a special deputy with the U.S. Marshal’s Service in Oklahoma City.
Sorrels said his lengthy experience in law enforcement makes him well-qualified for the job.
To him, the biggest issue facing the Sheriff’s Department is the county jail.
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division issued a report concluding that the Oklahomas County Jail did not provide inmates with reasonable protection from harm and constitutionally required mental health services.
The report deemed the jail inadequate in terms of housing, sanitation and environmental and fire-safety precautions. The DOJ and sheriff’s department entered into a memorandum of understanding that mandates the jail be renovated or a new facility built to address the problems.
“My opponent wants to say he’s fixed all that, but I’ve yet to see the [DOJ] report that says he’s fixed all that,” Sorrels said. “Right now I do not believe we need a new jail when everybody has to tighten their belts and the economy is in peril.”
Whetsel has said that jail concerns are being addressed through bolstered management and staff.
Sorrels said his biggest goal, if elected, will be to fix the jail’s problems with a minimal amount of taxpayer money and to make sure the county gets a fair amount of money for housing state inmates. In addition, he said he hopes voters see he is an honest man who would bring a new era of transparency to the office.
“If you want honesty and someone who will stand for the truth and do the right thing when no one else is looking, then I’m the man for you,” Sorrels said.
Whetsel has been sheriff for 16 years. He began his career in law enforcement as a Choctaw police officer in 1973 and served as that town’s chief of police for 21 years.
“[Law enforcement] is all I’ve ever done,” he said. “My dream from the time I was a child was to be in law enforcement. It goes beyond the college degrees I have and to the way I’ve served.”
The biggest issue facing whoever is elected sheriff, Whetsel said, is the ongoing challenge of crime deterrence and enforcement.
If re-elected, Whetsel said, he would strengthen outreach efforts already underway in the Hispanic and Asian communities and expand crime-prevention and social programs for senior citizens. Another goal would be buffering the practices of gathering criminal intelligence by jailers.
Whetsel also plans to continue working with the Legislature to make the office of sheriff nonpartisan in elections — something he has worked for since 1998.
“I do not do my job because I’m a Democrat and I would not do my job because I was a Republican,” Whetsel said. “If a sheriff is doing his or her job, their party had better not matter.”
Whetsel said he is confident that voters know his record.
“They saw our agency and what it was 16 years ago, and they’ve seen our agency over the past 16 years and what it is and what it does today,” he said. “I haven’t just talked about what I’m going to do. I’ve shown what I can do.”