CHESTER -- Two Chester County law enforcement heads will square off in the Democratic primary in June, with one hoping to keep his job and the other trying to claim a seat he's wanted for years.
In a rematch of the 2004 sheriff's race, Fort Lawn Police Chief Richard Smith will challenge Chester County Sheriff Robby Benson for the post Benson has held since 2000.
Smith said Monday he's running, and Benson said Friday he'll pursue re-election. The men are the only people to publicly state their interest in the position.
Filing for the job opens at noon March 17 and closes at noon March 31 for the June 10 primary.
The race likely will rip the Band-Aid off some old wounds. Smith and Benson have sparred in the past, including a public disagreement in 2006 about how authorities should police drugs in the county. That same year, Smith filed a police report about Benson in which he accused the sheriff of harassing him. No charges were filed in the case.
The sheriff serves a four-year term and is paid a salary of $53,856 per year.
Here's a snapshot of each candidate:
• Age: 48
• Experience: About 23 years in law enforcement. He served in the U.S. Air Force for four years and worked as a security supervisor at F. Schumacher & Co. for three years. He was elected sheriff in 2000.
• What's he done with his time in office: Benson said he's made improvements to the sheriff's office despite having a smaller staff than he did when he was first elected. He also said the department has done well with a budget that has remained about the same for the last six years. He points to aggressive drug enforcement as a sign of the agency's success. He claims the office is making more drug cases than it ever has. "It's not street-level cases that we're getting either," he said. "We're getting a lot of trafficking cases, distribution cases and a lot of felony cases out of it."
• What he'll focus on if elected: Continuing to battle the county's drug problem and finding additional money will be top priorities, Benson said. The county desperately needs a new jail and the sheriff's office needs a centrally located facility. Benson said the investigations, narcotics and patrol units are housed in different buildings around Chester. He also said the county needs more officers and radio towers.
• Difference from opponent: Benson said voters should stick with him because of his experience and because of his working relationships with other local, state and federal agencies. He said he spent his first four years in office building those connections and he's used the contacts throughout his second term. "I can contact any other sheriff right now and any resources they have, they'll bring them here," he said. "That was proven in Great Falls when we had the fire down there. ... When I called upon them, they'd send any resource I need."
• Age: 40
• Experience: About 16 years in law enforcement. He served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army National Guard -- including a year in the Iraq -- and retired from the military last year. He has been the Fort Lawn police chief for six years.
• What he's done as chief: When he came to Fort Lawn, Smith said he inherited a department with one officer and no agency-issued weapons, meaning he and his colleague had to carry their personal guns. Now, the agency has four full-time officers, including a narcotics specialist. All carry department-issued weapons. The department's evidence is now tracked with bar codes and computers. Smith also said his agency is the only police department in the county where officers can research a national crime database from their patrol car computers.
• What he'll focus on if elected: Smith doesn't think the sheriff's office is well organized. Reorganizing the department, he said, would free up more officers for other problems such as drugs. He also said the Chester County Council might allocate more money to the office if leaders see it's run efficiently. Smith also hopes to combat the county's drug problem by working to form a multijurisdictional drug task force that's run through the 6th Circuit Solicitor's Office.
• Difference from opponent: Community policing is critical to fighting crime, Smith said. He believes officers should be seen at times other than responding to 911 calls. And instead of taking some reports over the phone, he said officers should go see the caller. Smith also said he'd allow deputies to work off-duty at places such as the 321 Sportsbar, the nightclub where a woman was shot in the face on New Year's Eve. Benson has said he won't let his officers work there because of liability concerns. Smith said a police presence means a crime is less likely to occur.