12 years. That's how long Dennis Kucera has served as Tama County Sheriff. And should county residents support him on November 6 the way they have over the last two elections, four more years of keeping them safe is a challenge he's eager to accept.
Kucera, a Tama County native, has been in law enforcement for over three decades. He began his career as a reserve deputy for the Sheriff's Office in 1981 while working as an officer for the Belle Plaine Police Department. In 1983, he became a full-time deputy for Tama County.
Kucera served as a patrol supervisor and was named Deputy of the Year in 1988. He lives in Traer with his wife of 37 years, Gayle, and has raised three children who all attended North Tama schools. His sons live in the Buckingham and Reinbeck areas, and his daughter resides in Anchorage, Alaska.
Since winning the race for Sheriff in 2000, Kucera has made it a focus of his leadership to serve Tama County residents by providing law enforcement to a large county without having to spend exorbitant sums of money.
Since the dawn of the new millenium, Kucera has presided over the Sheriff's Office while managing to work within a tight budget, something he's quick to point out and rightfully proud of.
"I take pride in the fact that we've been able to have either no increase or minimal increases in our budget over the years," Kucera said. "Everything I do as Sheriff, I try to see the savings it will give to the taxpayers of Tama County."
One of the ways Kucera has saved during his time as Sheriff is to eliminate the more antiquated and wasteful spending of the past, and the methods he's used have also been followed by other departments during that time.
"We're always looking for areas to save the taxpayers' money. For example, we used to carry pagers and cell phones, but we helped trim costs by allowing a reimbursement for some of that cost to our deputies and having them use their own," Kucera said. "We also now have a per diem for things like transporting inmates out of the state. We have also been creative in finding ways to bring in revenue."
Having staff trained in K9, taser, defensive tactics and other specialized services has allowed the Sheriff's Office to earn extra money by having deputies provide training services to nearby departments and law enforcement academies.
One of the main points of contention during the election season thus far has been the idea of 24-hour coverage, something Kucera says is already a reality.
"We have 12 deputies and eight different shifts that overlap, which means there's a very small window where there is someone on call," Kucera said. "The oath deputies take when sworn in is to be on call and available at all times, something that they are in Tama County."
Another issue Kucera has dealt with is animal control, using the limited resources he has to effectively maintain a degree of safety for county residents.
"We responded to 117 calls last year for things like stray dogs, and we have a fine animal shelter in Tama," Kucera said. "Setting up a dedicated animal control would cost a significant amount of money because there's things like veterinary care, insurance, OSHA regulations and a facility to consider."
The idea of forming a SWAT team is something that his opponent has presented as an option, and something Kucera says is also already satisfied because of the county's reciprocity with neighboring agencies.
"We have the State Patrol and Marshalltown, which both have their own response teams, to offer us assistance in the case of a high priority emergency," Kucera said.
And despite the limited resources, Kucera says the the Sheriff's Office has made it a point under his leadership to reach out and engage with the community.
"We have great relationships with the schools and the communities we serve," Kucera said. "It is important to have involvement with the kids, which we do by visiting classrooms, attending club and group meetings and while on patrol."
"We also work with the schools by bringing the K-9 to school and doing locker searches at the schools' request," Kucera said.
For Kucera, it's all about providing the type of law enforcement residents can be proud of while maintaining a sense of fiscal responsibility.
"It comes down to saving taxpayers' money and providing law enforcement in a quality - not quantity - manner," Kucera said. "We do our best to do an efficient job and keep the public happy."