My coffee with Chuck

Chuck Jenkins is sure I hate him. He was so sure that a few weeks ago he asked me to meet him for coffee to talk about it.

“I would appreciate the opportunity to have a conversation with you in person about what you perceive are my faults or lack of abilities,” he wrote me in an e-mail. “I find it very odd that someone would have the kind of hate or disdain that you apparently have for me, without ever having met me in some setting.”


About a week earlier I had sent his campaign’s contact person a copy of a document I had compiled comparing his qualifications with those of Karl Bickel (see below). Jenkins’s side of the ledger had an awful lot of white space compared with Bickel’s. Maybe he took that effort to compare candidates not as a useful exercise in civics—voters are being asked to choose between the two–but as a sign of hatred. I had asked the contact person, who happens to be his wife, if there were more items—education, training, experience, what-have-you—that should be added to Jenkins’s side, which comes straight from his campaign literature and Web site.

I had asked if he could send me a copy of his resume. “No resume,” he e-mailed back, rather curtly, I thought.

But, naturally, I was delighted with his offer to meet.

“If you are willing to have a conversation in person you may be surprised at who I am,” he wrote. Then he added—apparently convinced that my supposed hatred could not countenance a meeting–”if not I understand and I believe it would be you[r] loss.”

He seemed resigned to the idea that I wouldn’t want to come face-to-face with him.

But I agreed immediately and said I would meet him at any time and place he chose. It was a week before he responded and suggested an early morning coffee at Trout’s restaurant in Woodsboro festooned at that time with campaign signs for Blaine Young, Kirby Delauter and, of course, Jenkins himself.

The day came. I arrived early, but he was waiting for me, in uniform. No sooner had I sat down and ordered coffee than he brought up hate again.

“I want to know why you hate me so much,” he said. Again he seemed focused on the idea that the important thing was my feeling about him as a person. I sensed that he was hurt by the thought.

“I don’t hate you,” I said. “I don’t hate anybody. You’re probably a nice guy, good husband, good father. All I’m concerned about is your performance as sheriff.”

I explained that in the document I sent him I was simply comparing qualifications of the two nominees seeking the office of sheriff. After all, both he and Karl Bickel are asking voters to judge who is more qualified to be sheriff. That document showed a long list of resume items for Bickel. For Jenkins not so much.

Jenkins said he had nothing to add to his side of the comparison. That left voters to evaluate him only on his record in office. So I asked him what he considered his major accomplishments during nearly eight years as sheriff.

“Connectability,” he said, right away.

“Okay, how does that translate into improved public safety or crime prevention?”

“It translates into trust.”

“Uh huh. Does that show up as greater public safety, or less crime? Or do you measure it some other way?”

He had no clear answer. However much trust people may have in him, serious crime in the county went up 23 percent from 2012 to 2013. I asked Jenkins why that happened.

He blamed it on drug addicts stealing to support their habit. There is evidence for that claim in that the rates for robbery, burglary and larceny were up the most.

“But,” I asked him, “why did the same rates go down in Frederick City” during the same time? Isn’t drug addiction is a bigger problem in urban areas than in rural places? He had no clear answer for that. He said there is more crime in the city than in the rest of the county, which is true, but he couldn’t explain why the trends—traditionally regarded as a sign of police effectiveness—are in opposite directions.

I pressed him again on his accomplishments, and he came up with another one: “We’ve probably built the best criminal investigations unit.”

My notes don’t say what he was comparing his unit to. Best in the state? Best in county history? I e-mailed him, asking for the comparison he had in mind, but he has not responded, even weeks later.

chuckjenkinsatdeskJenkins’s reluctance to continue the dialogue fits with the attitude he displayed several times during our interview. It showed up as soon as I pulled out my notebook and asked my first question. He jerked back and tried to wave away my notebook. He said he wasn’t here for an interview. But I kept asking questions, he settled down, and we continued for an hour and 20 minutes.

After all, his invitation to talk did invite me to bring up the things I perceived as his “faults and lack of abilities.” Here are some of our exchanges, with more paraphrases than direct quotes because he would not allow me to record the interview, and I couldn’t get it all down in notes. The comments I offer here were not part of the conversation.

Me: Why are you the most sued sheriff in Maryland?

Jenkins: That’s not true. “Lawsuits are everywhere.”

My comment: It is widely written that he is the most sued. Attorney General Doug Gansler reportedly has said as much. Gansler should know because his office—funded by taxpayers, of course–must defend the sheriff in court.

Me: Why did the detention center lose its accreditation?

Jenkins: It didn’t lose accreditation. I just decided to save money by not renewing it. We meet a higher standard anyway.

My comment: The American Correctional Association accredits jails and prisons nationwide. They told me the detention center has not been accredited since 2011. I asked Jenkins how he saved money by dropping the accreditation but he had no clear answer. It may be because he cut training for jail staff.

Me: I’m told you cut training for deputies.

Jenkins: “I have not cut training. There has been no lapse in training, no shortage.” In fact, I have approved “220 to 230 requests for training.”

My comment: It has been widely reported, including in the Frederick News-Post, that Jenkins cut the training budget by $220,000 during 2008 through 2010. Even the sheriff’s PR person, Jennifer Bailey, told the FNP that in-service training hours at the police academy in 2010 were cut by 24 percent from the 2007 level.

Me: Doesn’t the high suicide rate at the jail mean inmates are not being well managed?

Jenkins: “I haven’t found any weakness in our practices on that.” But we have tightened up on allowing inmates access to shoestrings and other materials that can be made into a noose.

My comment: There were no weaknesses, but some things have been strengthened. If you’re Chuck Jenkins, you can have it both ways. The facts are that even as jailhouse suicides have plummeted nationwide, they shot up in Frederick County during Jenkins’s tenure. There were none in the seven years prior to his taking office and cutting training. Since then there have been four.

Me: You often brag about how much money you have saved the taxpayers because each year you return unspent funds to the county coffers. Doesn’t that mean you’re overbudgeting every year, asking for more than you really need?

Jenkins: No. It’s because we keep cutting spending. During my term we’ve saved the county over $20 million.

My comment: Clearly Jenkins has cut programs and services, which do cost money. This could be one reason why crime has soared outside of the jurisdiction where training has not been cut—Frederick City. But his practice also represents poor budgeting—asking for more than you plan to spend. He could have created the illusion of saving still more money by asking for even more than he did and later returning the inflated sum to the county.

Me: I have talked with two of your deputies about morale in the Sheriff’s Office. They told me it’s terrible, that it’s never been lower in the 20 or more years they’ve been there.

Jenkins: “That’s not true. Morale is good.” We’ve raised salaries and benefits. There’s a quarterly meeting between the deputies’ union and management, and there are so few grievances that we often don’t need to have a meeting.

My comment: Word inside the Sheriff’s Office is that deputies are afraid to cross Jenkins. He is known for vindictiveness. No wonder so few grievances surface through official channels. Another reason I’m told that morale is so low is that Jenkins does not inspire followers. Rather than working his way up through the ranks, he jumped from being an investigator to sheriff only because he could get the top job by being elected. There are several layers of command between investigator and sheriff. It would be like an Army sergeant being elected general—not by the troops under his command but by the public at large.

As I said, we talked for an hour and 20 minutes. Jenkins did confess at least twice that it was a mistake for him to meet me. “I’m probably going to regret this,” he said. No doubt he still thinks it is hate for him personally that motivates my concern about Frederick County’s rising crime rate and the effectiveness of the demoralized police force that is supposed to protect us.

Jenkins’s apparent belief that his personality is what matters in running the Sheriff’s Office shows up in many of the letters to the editor supporting him. They often refer to descriptions of the office’s many failings as showing disrespect for Jenkins. They often refer to what a great guy he is, how likable he is. I can report that he is likable, a good ol’ boy. The Jenkins cult of personality is strong.

In his initial invitation to meet, he wrote, “you may be surprised at who I am.”

I think I learned something about who he is, and my reaction is not surprise but disappointment. He offered few facts to address criticisms of his tenure. I had thought he would know more about what he is doing.

Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins biography, as found on the county website (one page pdf file)

Chuck Jenkins for Sheriff website

Karl Bickel for Sheriff website

Karl Bickel for Sheriff on Facebook


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