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How will Ogle sheriff transition go?

Source says sheriff rarely shows up since defeat

Note to readers: The Ogle County Sheriff's Department source in this story asked for and was given anonymity by Sauk Valley Media to avoid any potential for workplace retaliation.

OREGON – The result of the March 18 Republican primary election led to a "sigh of relief" for many members of the Ogle County Sheriff's Department, according to a department source.

Sheriff Michael Harn's more than 3 years in office began with a "significant" reshuffling of the department, and he later became disruptive and retaliatory, according to a longtime member of the department who spoke with Sauk Valley Media on the condition of anonymity.

Harn lost in a close three-way primary won by Brian VanVickle, a Rochelle police officer. The Democratic Party has no candidate yet for the general election ballot on Nov. 4.

The new sheriff's term starts Dec. 1.

"We know in December things are going to change," the source said. "[Harn is] going to retire or whatever. We just have to get through this summer."

The sheriff didn't respond to multiple requests to comment for this story.

Harn has served 29 years with the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department, the past 3 as sheriff after defeating his boss, Sheriff Greg Beitel, in the 2010 primary election.

Harn's first decision as sheriff, in his first hour in office, according to the source, was to reshuffle the department, moving five investigators to patrol and five patrol deputies to the investigation unit.

Reshuffling a department after a transition is common, the source said, but Harn's extensive shakeup came as a surprise to most deputies and forced the department to "play catch-up." The source added that today, the department's investigations unit is a positive asset.

The moves might have been politically motivated, he said, adding that the five investigators who were moved to patrol had been supporters of Harn's predecessor.

"Draw your own conclusion," the source said.

In an interview on Tuesday, VanVickle said he expects some reshuffling when he takes over in December.

"Honestly, we've begun to think about that," he said. "There won't be any earth-shattering changes. There's a great group of guys there. There will be some restructuring and refocusing. In terms of wholesale change, that definitely won't occur."

During Harn's first 3 years as sheriff, he showed up at the department "three or four" times a week, the source said. But in the month after the election, according to the source, Harn was there only three times.

The Monday after the election, the source said, Harn changed the locks on his office door.

"It's better when he's not there," the source said. "He disrupts things when he's there."

Harn can micromanage deputies and be vindictive, the source said, adding that the sheriff is usually in his office for about 20 minutes during each visit.

However, Harn does call in to the department and is available through email, the source said.

VanVickle said he expects to have a greater day-to-day role, adding that it was a job he chose to seek, so he'll make sure he's there.

"I will be very involved, and I will be at the office during normal business hours," he said. "That's my intention."

He added that the administrative nature of the job means that he might be at county government meetings at times.

In two instances since taking office, Harn placed a law enforcement officer – a lieutenant and sergeant – on front desk duty, which is a job now handled by a part-time employee, the source said.

Those moves were made out of retribution, the source suggested. In one instance, the sheriff also revoked the officer's privilege of taking a patrol car home.

Such actions, which can be politically motivated, are among the reasons the majority of the department supported VanVickle during the primary, the source said. He knew of only three department members who supported Harn.

The source added that because of the experience of many of its members, the department was still performing well.

Harn, in an interview with Sauk Valley Media for a story that was published March 8, before the primary election, said "the office needed to be reorganized to perform at a higher level with less financial resources."

"I am the first to admit that forgoing raises, eliminating overtime, and asking for a good day's work from everybody has not made me the most popular boss," Harn said then. "But I am proud that not a single employee has been laid off, and am truly proud of the way our employees have executed the mission I laid out."

In December, Sauk Valley Media reported on Harn's use of department credit cards for a variety of purchases, including thousands of dollars for "training" lunches, as well as some personal expenses, which he paid directly to the credit card company.

While the "training" lunches were common knowledge, the source said, the other purchases – their variety and frequency – came as a surprise.

Also in December, Sauk Valley Media reported on the department's administrative tow fund, which had collected $210,400 between October 2011 and November 2013 and was used to pay for repairs to department vehicles, a tent at the Ogle County Fair, and a $4,000 management fee for the department’s Facebook page, among other expenses.

The Ogle County Board has since restricted what the fund can be used for and transferred control of it to the county treasurer.

VanVickle supported the fund's restrictions to make it work as it was intended. He also said he would eliminate the department's gasoline credit cards and the "credit cards will be vastly restricted."

"The spending needs to be regulated," he said, "and there needs to be some more accountability than there has been."

After stories about the department's spending were published, the department source said, Harn became more disruptive and often yelled at department members.

Harn sent an internal memo about the "dissemination of information" to his staff on March 12.

Harn told personnel that "no member of this department is to have any contact with Sauk Valley Media or its reporter without prior approval of the sheriff," citing the department's policy manual and another memo he had sent in 2012.

In previous interviews with Sauk Valley Media, Harn has said his department's Facebook page is a way he and the department interact with citizens and keep them informed.

"Citizens appreciate knowing who the problem people are who are currently breaking the law in our county, and what types of crimes are being committed," Harn said in the March 8 story. "We now have a way to communicate weather-related issues and road conditions."

The last post on that Facebook page was made March 13. Five posts were made in March.

Since telling his department not to speak with Sauk Valley Media, Harn has been difficult to reach for information on arrests and investigations, something the department source did not like.

"It's in the best interest of the citizens to know what's going on in the department," the source said. "It's a public safety issue."

During the months before Harn took office after defeating Beitel, the two sat down to work out the transition, the source said.

While enough experienced deputies are available to help with the transition from Harn to VanVickle, the source said he doubted Harn would be so cooperative.

VanVickle said he hadn't spoken to Harn since the election, but added that he hadn't yet tried to reach the sheriff, though he will at some point.

"We took that oath," the source said of the oath that law enforcement members take. "We live that oath. Sometimes I think the man that gave us that oath forgot about his oath."

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