Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris speaks about his record and re-election campaign on Wednesday, January 31, 2024.

Sheriff Norris Touts His Record in Re-election Bid

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COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO – Campaign season for the upcoming May primary has already begun in Kootenai County, and several races seeking the Republican nomination are shaping up to be hotly contested. The Kootenai Journal will be interviewing all candidates willing to have an unscripted, open dialogue in order to provide the community with relevant and important information.

In an exclusive interview with the Kootenai Journal on Wednesday, January 31, 2024, Kootenai County Sheriff Robert “Bob” Norris spoke about the issues facing our community, the importance of a sheriff who will protect citizens’ rights, and the culture within the sheriff’s office.

Fully video interview with Sheriff Bob Norris on Wednesday, January 31, 2024, before his campaign kickoff event at the Coeur d’Alene Inn. Includes comments from attendees.

When asked why he was seeking re-election Norris said, “I have to tell you, 2024 is going to have many challenges. It doesn’t matter which candidate wins the presidency, half of this nation is going to be divided. What we saw in 2020 and 2021, we need a sheriff with experience, not only in law enforcement, but who can stand up for the first amendment, the second amendment, and the fourth amendment rights of the citizens of Kootenai County.”

Norris explained how he has changed the culture of the sheriff’s office to be more service oriented and to safeguard citizens’ rights. On his first day in office on January 11, 2021, Norris issued a press release that set the tone for how deputies would be protecting and serving the community.

“We are not going to enforce any executive mandate or executive fiat on any of our citizens. No dictates whatsoever,” Norris stated. According to Norris, the change of culture was about protecting rights. He believes his media release on his first day in office, gave police chiefs within the county what they needed to stand firm against potential city council actions in violation of citizens’ rights.

Norris said he ended previous training related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). He noted the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), which is established by the state and is required to become a peace officer in Idaho, does have a four-hour DEI block, but that is out of his jurisdiction. “As far as qualifications to be a member of the sheriff’s office, I don’t abide by any quotas … whoever is the best qualified, is who we are going to hire,” Norris asserted. 

When asked about the number one issue he has faced over the last three years as sheriff, Norris immediately responded, “We are battling fentanyl … Fentanyl is killing three times more people today in Kootenai County than it did in 2021.”

Norris went on to explain that Idaho is moving forward with legislation to strengthen laws pertaining to fentanyl and the direct flow of drugs across the southern border into Idaho is why his office will not assist federal agencies on their drug task forces. Norris said he told the federal agency, “No. Close the southern border, we’ll have a conversation. It’s no use for all this fentanyl that can be easily transported … with an open border.”

When it comes to handling officer misconduct, Norris says the seriousness of the situation would be a key factor. If an officer’s actions have to do with a “mistake of the mind” it would likely result in immediate termination, while those with a “mistake of the heart” would be addressed with additional training and development.

After the interview concluded, the Kootenai Journal was given full access to the campaign kickoff party. The event was held at the Coeur d’Alene Inn, and was well-attended with around 200 people filling the room, including former Kootenai County sheriffs, current and retired law enforcement, and elected officials.

Brad Maskell and Ken Lallitan, both retired detectives with decades of experience, spoke about the positive changes Norris brought to the sheriff’s office. The changes were based on campaign promises, including reducing the top-heavy command structure, giving authority down the chain of command to make decisions, and retention of deputies.

“We’re going to talk about my first term and we are just going to be factual,” stated Norris at the beginning of his address to the crowd. “I believe an incumbent should run on their record … The best indicator of how someone performs in the future, is how they performed in the past.”

Kootenai County Idaho Sheriff Robert “Bob” Norris addresses the crowd during a public re-election party Wednesday night at the Best Western Hotel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. (Photo courtesy of Ed Broberg)

Norris stated he has lowered the number of captains from five to three, and his policy changes increased morale and lowered the county’s liability payouts to less then $34,000 per year on average. The liability payouts from 2017-2021 had averaged over $313,000 per year. Since he took office, the sheriff’s office has seen improvement in retention of deputies due to priorities he championed with the county commissioners who set the pay structures and budgets.

Through engagement with the community during his first term, Norris was successful in getting approximately $1.3 million in donated resources, including a search and rescue helicopter and equipment that renders a 3D-model of a room to assist in investigations of critical incidents.

Norris announced plans to double the all-volunteer citizens force to help the community in the event of an emergency. The idea is to have a pre-vetted ready-to-go database of 410 citizens who are skilled in various trades, including electricians, plumbers, contractors, former military, and retired first responders.

The Kootenai Journal asked several individuals why they attended Norris’ campaign event. Four gentlemen spoke with us on camera. 

“Bob is the best sheriff I think any county in America could have,” stated Ed Bejarana. “I know Bob personally, I’ve seen him work professionally. This is a man who puts community first. He’s just a dynamite individual, yet he’s open to creative ideas.”

“We came here for the second-half, because we went over and listened to his opponent the first half, and I am much more impressed with Norris. Not only because of what he said tonight, but also his demonstrated performance,” shared Tom Shafer. 

“I think he’s been a good sheriff and I think he will continue to be a good sheriff,” said Bob Smith, who disclosed he works as a volunteer with the sheriff’s search and rescue unit. “I am aware of his accomplishments, and I think he’s done an excellent job of communicating.”

Mr. Tristram said he attended the event because he has seen a lot of sheriffs and Norris is the first to be truly approachable. “I have yet to get any sense at all that he hasn’t answered my questions truthfully,” stated Tristram. “I have asked him to address a variety of issues and he spoke clearly and concisely and I did like the answers he gave.”

Currently, there is one declared challenger to Norris. The Kootenai Journal has extended an invitation for an in-person interview to Dan Wilson’s campaign.