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There’s a new sheriff in town. No, really.
Interim Fayette County Sheriff Chris Palmer was sworn into office officially Thursday morning, Apr. 1 by Fayette County Judge Don Sheafor.
Palmer, a Pana native, is no stranger to the Fayette County area as he served 14 years on the Vandalia Community Unit District 203 school board, six years as that body’s president. He has been in the Fayette County area since returning home from the Air Force.
Palmer entered the service following graduation from high school, serving as an intelligence analyst, and attended the University of Maryland. Upon completion of his service after four years, he returned home, unemployed, and looking for a job. While at a friend’s house, he was told that the City of Vandalia was looking for a police officer, and, if nothing else, the experience would “look good for unemployment.”
“The next thing I knew, I was a cop,” Palmer laughed.
He served on the Vandalia police department for six years, then went to serve with the Secretary of State police in several capacities, including hostage negotiations and being an electronic criminal surveillance officer. In 2005, he was selected to be a bomb technician, becoming a certified in that capacity two years later, and receiving numerous other certifications in the ensuing years from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). For the next 12 years, he was also a deputy U. S. Marshal and a member of the FBI’s Task Force until he retired in February of 2019.
However retirement wasn’t in the cards, as shortly thereafter, Palmer started a consulting company, and in September, then-Sheriff Chris Smith asked Palmer to work as court security at the Fayette County Courthouse. Ten months later, he was appointed as Chief Deputy for the sheriff’s office.
“This office has been run very efficiently. We have seen four new deputies come on board in the past seven months, filling the positions of those who have retired” Palmer said. “The public is going to see more deputies at area schools and school events. Just having an officer present, and showing the public that officers are people too, will open the lines of communication.”
One thing that Palmer will concentrate on is the “constant battle with methamphetamine and “fentanyl” an opioid.
He also says there will be future challenges ahead with several bills introduced in the state legislature, including HB 3653, now Public Act 652. Included in that bill is the provision to allow frivolous lawsuits to be brought against officers who, based solely on unsubstatiated allegations, deprive any person of rights, privileges, or immunities protected by the U.S. Constitution or laws or the Illinois Constitution or laws.
“This could be for so much as a correctional officer telling a prisoner to sit down,” Palmer said.
The Act also strips protections, both legal and instrumental, for officers.
However that is not the only bill of concern proposed by Illinois lawmakers. Palmer also cites others:
HB 3913 – reduces the distance which sexual predators may live near schools from 500 feet to 250. It also says that if a convicted sexual predator does not have a fixed address, they do not have to consistantly register their living location;
HB 0724 – provides for legislators to be “conservators” of the peace (police officers);
HB 3961 – does not enable a police officer to go off of probation unless they have a Bachelor’s degree with a major or minor in social work;
SB 3510 – requires all assault weapons to be recorded with police, and
HB 1727 – takes away qualified immunity from officers who are alleged to have violated the constitutional rights of detainees, whether it happened or not.
“We are always going to be second guessing ourselves, and all of our split-second decisions are going to be under a microscope for months,” he said.
However it’s not all doom and gloom, as Palmer hopes to make the sheriff’s office a great place to work and make sure his officers go home each night.
“When I was on the school board, we had full transparency and open communications. That’s what I want for the sheriff’s office. I am not going to be sheriff forever and I want to make this a better to work than when I started. A place that you don’t hate going to work,” he said. “Officer safety is the highest priority. I want officers to make it home to their family at the end of their shift. After all, family is always first.”