Stephens, Beck face off for Sheriff’s spot

Published 7:48 pm Thursday, October 27, 2016

Voters in Jefferson County are looking to seat a new sheriff with the Nov. 8 election.

Mitch Woods, who served four terms, is retiring and now the choice is between Democratic candidate Zena Stephens and Republican candidate Ray Beck.

Both Stephens and Beck have an extensive career in law enforcement — Stephens with experience as chief of police at Prairie View A&M, chief deputy at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and with Beaumont Police Department and Beck with   nearly four decades of experience with the Beaumont Police Department.

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Both candidates spoke with The News on their views of how to improve the relationship between the sheriff’s office and their platforms.

“The improvement comes with actively being involved in the community,” Beck said. “Through all of my career I’ve been active in the community. We want to get more involved in the schools and community programs and that’s just my personality and management style. You have to be connected to the community to know what the community’s wants and needs are. There are also other divisions within the department that are top heavy and we need to get people out of the building and back to the community, that translates to safer streets.”

Stephens said this topic is important.

“The first thing is we have to be more visible in the community in order to rebuild some trust issues we have. It’s not just with the sheriff’s office but law enforcement in general,” Stephens said.

Beck’s platform revolves around transparency in law enforcement, fiscal responsibility, increased officer presence in neighborhoods for safety and advanced training for local, state and federal law enforcement officials.

“There is an air of corruption in the sheriff’s office and I’m not going to damage my reputation and career because of the activities of someone else. In no way will there be corruption under my administration and that relates to transparency,” he said.

Beck also addressed the sheriff’s offices’ $41 million budget, which is about one-third of the county’s operating budget.

This budget isn’t just a one-person document but one that is worked on by others in the sheriff’s office along with guidance from an auditor and county commissioners in order to create a balanced budget.

Stephens is running on a platform of getting back to basics meaning she wants to make sure the sheriff’s office is concentrating on the public’s safety in the community.

“In doing that you have to embrace diversity and change. Twenty-first century policing is different than in the past,” she said. “We need to get back to community policing, know who lives in the neighborhoods and interact with the community we see every day. This is in no reflection on what anybody has done before me. I want to make sure the sheriff’s office is a better reflection of the community it serves and that means hiring a more diverse group of people in law enforcement and corrections to reflect that.”

Beck began with the Beaumont Police Department in 1974 and worked his way through the ranks to leadership positions. He has almost 40 years experience in law enforcement and holds the highest level of Texas law enforcement certifications, master peace officer.

Beck has volunteered on boards and committees of numerous local organizations, some of which include the 100 Club, Bikes and Bibles, Cops and Kids, neighborhood associations, the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, American Red Cross and Citizens for a Safe Community.

Stephens began her career in law enforcement in 1989 as a Beaumont Police Officer. Following the birth of her daughter she left the department for a shirt stint at Spindle Top Mental Health Facility as public information officer before spending the next 16 years at Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

In 2013 she became the first female police chief at Prairie View A&M University.

Stephens holds a master peace officer certification, received the Woman of the Year award for dedicated community services from the Beaumont Chapter of the National Association of University Women, the appreciation award for the I Have A Dream Mentoring Program and Changing the World One Cause At A Time award from Pioneering Women.