Lake County Democratic Party precinct committee members name the new Lake County sheriff

Lake Circuit Court Judge Marissa McDermott swears in Oscar Martinez Jr. as the new Lake County Sheriff.

John J. Watkins, The Times

As the dust settles from the Lake County sheriff's caucus election, so must the political gamesmanship behind the recent process of picking the county's new top cop.

Veteran Lake County policeman Oscar Martinez was the last man standing Saturday when a caucus of Democratic precinct committee members cast their ballots for a successor to disgraced former Sheriff John Buncich.

Now newly anointed Sheriff Martinez must shift his focus from currying favor with Democratic Party insiders to pressing department needs.

The stakes are high.

Improving department morale in the wake of Buncich's felony bribery conviction should be near the top of Martinez's list.

Simple honesty and refusing to allow political allegiances and personal enrichment to usurp the sheriff's office is the only remedy.

But fixing the morale and image of the beleaguered department isn't the only pressing need.

A recent column by Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase detailed runaway overtime expenses in the Lake County Jail, which also beg questions of jailers' and inmates' safety.

Jailers are ringing up $1.6 million per year in overtime expenses.

Chase's computer-assisted analysis of jail payroll data concluded five corrections officers earned as much or more than the jail warden in 2016 on the strength of staggering amounts of overtime.

Some jailers averaged work weeks of 100 hours or more. If they’re truly putting in those hours, we must question how the wear and tear impacts their ability to stay sharp in a potentially dangerous environment.

Meanwhile, overtime worked by jailers grew 168 percent during Buncich's recent two-term tenure — a clear sign of a system out of control.

Martinez must turn serious attention to this matter.

He also should do all he can to further the Lake County Sheriff's Department as a true countywide police force — not just patrolmen for the unincorporated areas.

Though the department already aids in policing some county urban areas with high-crime needs, there's room for improvement.

The way of the future for good government is consolidation and sharing of services, and the sheriff's department is the law enforcement agency best equipped to further those ends.

Martinez also must pick a new sheriff's command staff with quality police experience, not politics and political favors, in mind.

Some folks within the party no doubt will clamor for favors after Martinez's caucus election.

He must resist deputy command and jail administration appointments that are based on anything but police and leadership qualifications.

Those with criminal records should be eliminated from contention. Conventional wisdom should dictate that, but it hasn't in the past.

Current Lake County Jail warden Ed Davies, for example, was named to that post by Buncich, despite having been convicted in 1999 of misdemeanor theft of a mink coat sheriff's investigators had seized during a drug raid.

Such appointments only further erode public trust.

The Lake County Jail also is on the cusp of emerging from a long period of federal oversight regarding past poor conditions at the jail. Martinez must do all he can to shepherd us into the final stages of compliance with a U.S. Department of Justice mandate.

Being out of compliance, and struggling to get back into the good graces of the federal government, is costing the jail, and therefore Lake County taxpayers, some $6 million per year.

Martinez must begin to act now on these priorities heading into the 2018 election.

His campaign slogan has been "A New Direction." Now he must prove it.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase, Editor Bob Heisse, Politics/History Editor Doug Ross and Managing Editor Erin Orr.