ORANGE CITY—Bruce Jacobsma is hoping to collect enough write-in ballots on Nov. 3 to become Sioux County’s top law enforcement officer.
The 49-year-old Orange City assistant chief of police recently launched a write-in campaign for the Sioux County sheriff’s election, in which incumbent Dan Altena (R-Sioux Center) is running unopposed on the ballot. The sheriff’s department is based in Orange City.
Jacobsma criticized actions Altena’s office took earlier this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic — such as prioritizing for arrest people who commit serious crimes and only holding in the county jail people deemed violent — and accused Altena of neglecting his duties.
“I was seeing the problems that the jail not accepting prisoners were causing and then talking to my chief, listening to the other law enforcement officers and then here and other things as far as the deputies not being basically allowed to make traffic stops,” Jacobsma said.
“With Orange City — we also cover Alton and part of Highway 60 is actually in the city limits of Alton — we’re seeing the speeds climb dramatically and stuff. It just was putting the people of Sioux County at risk.”
He said when law enforcement officers on the streets make the decision a person needs to be arrested and put in jail, the officers need the support of the sheriff to do so.
“They’re making the decision that they are a risk to the public at that particular point in time, and we need to take that risk away,” Jacobsma said.
If he were sheriff, Jacobsma said he would continue to consult with medical professionals about the pandemic and ways to minimize risk. However, he said law enforcement workers still need to be able to do their jobs.
“We come into the job knowing that we’re going to take risks,” Jacobsma said. “We try to minimize those the best we can, but we still understand that there are risks involved with this job and we still have to do the job.”
Jacobsma, who is in his 20th year serving on the Orange City Police Department, said he also wants to improve working relations between the sheriff’s department and the county’s police departments should he become sheriff.
“I don’t think there are real good working relationships between the sheriff and the police departments right now,” Jacobsma said.
“I’ve spoken with a lot of the police chiefs and that was a big concern of theirs. There would be a lot of work to do to mend those relationships, and we’re all out here for the same goal and if we can’t work together to reach that goal, we’ve got problems. I think I can mend those relationships really well.”
Jacobsma also accused Altena of spending “the majority of his time” out of the office and was unavailable to the public when the pandemic started.
According to Altena, however, that is not true since he was working remotely from his residence in Sioux Center during that time.
“I would come into my office sometimes late at night when nobody was around,” Altena said.
“Throughout this whole pandemic, I’ve been totally in touch with my staff, constantly working on policies and how procedures are going and things that we need to do.”
Altena, 61, also defended the decisions his office made in response to the pandemic, which he pointed out was a new phenomenon for everybody in law enforcement. When the pandemic first hit, Altena said he reached out to other sheriffs in the area to learn how they were reacting to it.
“There’s no playbook out there that we could go to and say, ‘OK, how do you handle a pandemic in the jail with your deputies? What exactly should we do?’” Altena said. “We had to very quickly come up with policies, plans of action, constantly stay in touch with each other, overseeing everything. A lot of decisions had to be made very quickly and tough, hard decisions.”
One of the major initial concerns was keeping the agency’s employees healthy and able to work, which is why the decisions were made to limit exposure to other people in the office. That also was the reason why Altena’s office limited the number of people admitted to the county jail to only those accused of violent offenses, not minor infractions.
Altena also said his office worked on the scene of a fatal shooting in May that happened in Ireton.
“We were all at that all night doing the investigation,” he said.
Altena said the Sioux County Sheriff’s Office started shifting back into more normal operations while still following health precautions and using personal protective equipment in late July. He said he met with the county’s police chiefs and the county attorney to work out what that transition would look like.
“We have a backlog of trying to get people in, so we’ve opened up the jail more so that officers can bring more people to the jail,” Altena said. “We did that, we also opened up with our deputies. They are now allowed to stop more vehicles as they did before.”
Altena said he was surprised to hear of supposed problems between the agencies because he has a good relationship with the police chiefs.
“We provide assistance to any agency that needs it. In understanding, our agency has a real good relationship with all the other departments,” Altena said.
Altena said Jacobsma has a right to disagree with him regarding decisions the sheriff’s office has made and that he has a right to run a write-in campaign. However, he questioned why Jacobsma had not expressed his criticisms earlier.
The filing deadline for the June 2 primary election was March 25, while the deadline for nonparty or third-party candidates running for the general election was March 20.