Transparency, efficiency and community engagement are key focuses for Fort Wayne Police Department Capt. Mitch McKinney as he seeks his first term as Allen County sheriff in 2022.

McKinney, currently the director of FWPD’s community relations division, plans to retire in two years, and he announced Friday that he will be a Republican candidate for county sheriff. He hopes to fill the vacancy that will be created when Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux finishes his final term of office in 2022.

McKinney’s campaign is being chaired by New Haven Mayor Steve McMichael. Fort Wayne City Clerk Lana Keesling is serving as treasurer.

McKinney said he’s been “praying and working with people and discussing this for about the last four years, putting pieces together and figuring out what’s best for my family.” If elected, his tenure as county sheriff would follow a 22-and-a-half-year career with Fort Wayne which began in 1999.

“I think the biggest thing is that you run for an office not to change people, not to change routine, but everything — no matter how good it is — can be made better,” he said. “… I’m closing my chapter with the Fort Wayne Police Department Oct. 15 of 2022, and my hope is that by May of 2022, I’ve already started to open a new chapter in county policing to help these folks do the best they can with the traditions of the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, and to make it a better system for the residents of Allen County.”

McKinney, a 1985 graduate of Bishop Dwenger High School, was born and raised in Fort Wayne. He began his career as a law enforcement officer more than 20 years ago, after an officer brought him an application during his time as a district manager for Belmont Beverage.

McKinney was a member of FWPD’s 52nd recruit class, and he was elected as class spokesman during that time. He initially worked as a patrol officer, quickly going undercover in vice narcotics and eventually transferring to the highway interdiction team. He was a member of the emergency services team from 2003 to 2006 and was named the team’s member of the year in 2006. In 2005, he became a Law Enforcement Training Board certified instructor and completed the training to earn the rights of a senior instructor in 2015, specializing in defensive tactics, ground fighting, emergency vehicle operations and CPR/AED. He then served as a staff instructor and supervisor for the 56th, 57th, 60th, 61st and 62nd basic recruit class. He was appointed to the rank of captain in 2018. His role as director of the community relations division encompasses the school resource officers, public information officers, Safety Village, multicultural liaisons, recruitment and community outreach programs. He also serves as the commander for the Fort Wayne Police Department Pipe and Drum Brigade and assists with the honor guard.

McKinney served as president of the Fraternal Order of Police Indiana Wayne Lodge 14 from 2010 to 2020, and also serves as the northeast district trustee as part of the FOP state lodge executive council. As sheriff, he hopes to leverage the connections and skills he’s built in those posts to reinforce relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

“As Fraternal Order of Police president, I’ve pulled state officers and brought them in and said, ‘Hey, I need you guys to come down so these kids and these families can see all our uniforms in Allen County and how we all work together to make our county great,’” he said of his efforts to promote community engagement. “It’s the pulse of law enforcement. We are the largest customer service organization in the world. … We have to make sure we’re connected with our community because we only get one chance to be a good commercial for our agency, no matter what uniform you wear, and if you mess it up, it’s a withdraw from that community bank account. If you do it right, it’s a deposit in that bank account.”

In addition to community engagement, McKinney’s platform is centered around transparency, efficiency and wellness resources. In his experience, he said, those values promote one another. The key is educating the public.

“When you have community engagement, especially in the law enforcement profession, you automatically create a transparency that people won’t come crying for,” he said. “When you engage with the community, you have conversations about what it is you do, why you do it, when you do it. And, if people already have that, when something goes wrong, it’s glaring. It’s nothing that you can hide, it’s nothing you can make excuses for.”

McKinney has led FWPD’s efforts in implementing Procedural Justice and Police Legitimacy over the past eight years. That program involves classes that bring officers and citizens together to not only build relationships, but to teach community members about aspects of policing, such as use of force.

“We have an understanding right away, and I just think that’s very important for all law enforcement,” he said.

If elected, McKinney said he hopes to address officers’ concerns before they become problems, “to make sure the employees have everything they need, from mental health to financial stability to making sure they have proper time off. Do we have enough people staffed to cover the hours that we need to cover the work that needs to be done?”

He wants to implement new resources for inmates as well. He said he is currently looking for key players in Allen County — whether it’s pastors, doctors, nonprofits or other charitable organizations — to work with the county to develop community resources for those involved in the legal system.

“What are we doing when that person walks out of county custody — whether they’re released on bond or they’re released altogether? What resources do we have for people to automatically land on their feet and not come back into the jail system?” he said. “We have a percentage of people that we know are always going to recycle through there, but it doesn’t mean you stop those efforts. And those efforts have to come from the community. That’s not something a sheriff or a sheriff’s department can do on their own. There has to be balanced, parallel resources coming from the community.”

In addition to his police work, McKinney currently serves or has served on the boards of several organizations in the Fort Wayne area, including Fort Wayne Ballet, Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, Franke Park Day Camp and McMillen Health. Most recently, he was selected to serve on Concordia Lutheran High School’s board of directors. He also serves as the founder and executive director of local FOP foundation Leaving a Living Legacy, LLC.

However, McKinney said he is most proud of his work with the FOP and Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne on the Blue Bucket Brigade. The program brings law enforcement and youth together to “build bridges and open doors to better serve families and at-risk youth with positive activities and mentoring,” The program’s motto is “Connecting our most trusted servants with our most vulnerable youth.”

“It’s supplying platforms like that in the community so that not only the kids can see people that look like them and realize they can be in this profession someday too, but when their parents and guardians pick them up, and they see those positive relationships, that’s where transparency and efficiency comes from,” McKinney said. “It’s that the community understands what it is we do and how we do it, because we have those discussions one on one.”

McKinney met his wife, Cindy, 32 years ago at Franke Park Day Camp while the two were both camp counselors. They celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary on Oct. 15. The couple have two sons, Jackson and Miles. The McKinneys live in Cindy’s family homestead in rural Allen County, which has been in her family since it was constructed in the 1890s.

McKinney’s campaign can be reached at mckinneyforsheriff@gmail.com.

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