A deputy commander of Montgomery County's 5th District Police Station will challenge Sheriff Darren M. Popkin in the Nov. 6, 2018 general election.
Lt. Jae Hwang, a 15-year police veteran, Army reservist, and graduate of the University of Baltimore Law School, filed paperwork with the Maryland State Board of Elections this month and launched a website - www.jaeforsheriff.com. He is a registered Republican.
"Crime has been increasing in Montgomery County," Hwang said in an interview. "We need a more effective, engaged and hands-on sheriff."
Popkin, a Democrat, was first elected as Sheriff in 2010 following the retirement of six-term Sheriff Raymond M. Kight. Although Popkin faced challengers in the 2010 and 2014 primary elections, he has never before run against any opponents in a general election.
The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office is the law enforcement arm of the judicial system. Sheriff's deputies provide courthouse security, transport prisoners, apprehend fugitives, serve arrest warrants and court orders, and conduct evictions and asset seizures.
Sheriff's deputies participate in the U.S. Marshal Service Capital Area Region Fugitive Task Force, Montgomery County Gang and Firearms Task Forces and maintain a Special Response Team that responds to high-risk situations, including those involving explosives and drug detection.
The sheriff's office also runs the Family Justice Center, a full-service center for domestic abuse victims located in Rockville. Deputies perform welfare checks on domestic violence victims and seize guns from offenders who have been served protective orders.
One of Hwang's top priorities is to improve communications between the rank-and-file.
"You can lead from the front and engage," Hwang said. "You see what your deputies and the police are doing, not stay behind a desk," Hwang said. "If you know what's going on in the street, you are going to be a better leader and manager. I'm going to be out there with the deputies."
Hwang's campaign platform priorities also include empowering sheriff's deputies with more investigative and law enforcement duties. He said he would like to streamline the process involving domestic abuse cases where the deputies come out as experts in the field.
"Right now the County police goes out and conducts investigations of domestic violence cases," Hwang said. "The sheriffs get involved with service of process for documents, such as protective orders. So we have multiple components engaging in one process that the sheriff's office can handle."
Improving partnerships with other police agencies and creating a direct line of communication between the citizens and sheriff's office are other goals.
Hwang also said he would like to see Montgomery County patrol officers back in the neighborhoods on nights and weekends, suggesting some police officers are being pulled off the streets to transport inmates to detention centers because the sheriff's deputies are not available to do it.
Popkin said he doesn't know what Hwang means by empowering deputies.
"Every deputy sheriff that works in my office are sworn police officers that are certified by the Maryland police training commission," Popkin said. "They have all the powers and enforcement that any police officer has in Montgomery County or statewide.
"For purposes of the duties and responsibility of the sheriff's office, we don't want to overlap because there is an exceptional Montgomery County Police Department that handles the patrol responsibilities and criminal investigations – where the sheriff is the enforcement arm of the courts. The last thing we want to do is overlap what the Montgomery County Police do because they do a great job at it."
Hwang also said he has been told that the newly-annexed circuit courtrooms are understaffed.
"I don't think the personnel has been provided," Hwang said. "That's one of the primary responsibilities to provide courtroom and courthouse security. There's room for improvement for sure."
Popkin said in an interview he thinks he has met the expectations of the voting public, but he never expects to run unopposed.
"I will continue to do all the things I was elected to do and meet with the community on a regular basis," Popkin said. "We have an exceptional record and we are a model sheriff's office in the state of Maryland. I am very fortunate. I am very blessed to have tremendous people working for me that are incredibly dedicated staff."
When asked why Hwang wanted to leave a deputy commander position to run for sheriff, he said it is a place where he can make change.
"I want to be a servant of the community and make a positive impact," Hwang said. "When I leave Montgomery County, I want to leave it better than I found it."