It’ll be April before he has to file the paperwork, but Sheriff Eddie Virden wants to get the word out that he’ll be running for another term in 2020.
Virden explains his approach is hands-on when it comes to major incidents, including all deaths. He requires his staff to brief him about all incidents that result in deaths, so that he can play an appropriate role in responding. He said that he also strives for a high level of accessibility to the public.
“When I ran (the last time), people told me I was nuts because I put my telephone number on the mailout,” he said. He added that he never changed the number — which is 918-214-2233 if you have a need to call. “I feel like I’m a public servant, and I’ve got to be available to the people I work for.”
Virden said his aim is to set a high standard for community service, and to hold himself and his staff members to that standard.
Lt. Gil DuPont, the jail lieutenant, said the county jail has become more secure and safer during Virden’s term in office. New locks, procedures and cameras have improved security, he said. Work on the plumbing, electrical infrastructure, kitchen facilities, sewer system and storage facilities have also improved the jail, he said.
The jail staff is now able to do a much better job of storing inmate property items, so they can be returned at the appropriate time, DuPont said. There has also been an emphasis on helping prisoners to stay in touch with their family members and friends, he said.
“The main goal is to try to get people turned around,” DuPont said.
Investigator Steve Talburt said Virden has also made a point of putting officer boots on the ground in the field. With that effort to put deputies in the field has come an emphasis on the accountability of officers, Talburt said.
“The accountability for each deputy is at the highest standard,” Talburt said. He said the deputies and the office staff work well together, and there is little if any conflict.
“He pushes us,” Talburt said of Virden, explaining that the sheriff will brainstorm with investigators to try to find more effective approaches to solving cases.
“We approach it as a team,” Virden said. DuPont added that the current staff has a familial level of cooperation to it.
“I have them call me if there’s any death in the county,” Virden said. “I want to know what’s going on — that’s my job. You don’t get second chances. I don’t want to lose time on something, or an opportunity.”
While tax revenue for the sheriff’s office has become more of an issue through the years, the department has creatively used grant funding to pay for needed equipment items, and Virden said staff members engage in dialogue about the best ways to spend any funds that the department manages to save during the year.
“I’m not a micromanager,” Virden said. “It’s all of us together, working together.”
Virden, 53, got his start in law enforcement more than three decades ago as a community service officer with the Bartlesville Police Department. He wasn’t yet 21. Since then, he’s worked thousands of felony cases and invested large amounts of time in narcotics investigations. He is completing his first term as Osage County’s sheriff.
Virden has operated in an increasingly tight financial context, where the sheriff’s office no longer has the financial cushion it once had as a result of sales tax revenues. The tax no longer generates the kind of receipts that would allow the department to save money.
“There are a lot of challenges ahead for Osage County,” he said. “It’s going to take good management and hard work to work through the issues.”