Jasper County Sheriff Randee Kaiser’s story starts out much differently than that of other sheriffs.
After graduating in 1991 from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri – Columbia, he took a job with the Carthage Press, spending much of his time covering “cops and courts.”
“With that duty, I visited the Carthage Police Department daily to get information off the blotter. While I was down there one day, the police chief, Ed Ellefsen, came in and said ‘Hey — we’re testing for a police officer position in a month or so. Why don’t you apply?’ I remember telling him that I didn’t know the first thing about being a cop but he said he could teach me that,” Sheriff Kaiser said. “Then I told him I had just gotten my degree in journalism not too long ago and liked what I was doing — but he answered, ‘Just think about it.’ When I saw him the next day, the first thing he said was, ‘Well, did you think about it?’”
Sheriff Kaiser said he told him that he had, but again said he didn’t think that was something he wanted to try. However, the chief didn’t give up. Day after day, he would come out of his office to ask the same question — and each day, the young reporter had the same answer.
“But he finally wore me down and I said I’d apply,” he laughed. “I remember when the day came. I was standing in the lobby of the police department with 15 or 20 other guys, all testing for that one position. Many had been through the academy — the guy next to me was already working in law enforcement – so I was thinking, ‘There’s no way I’m going to get this job.’ But as it turns out, I was selected and started in August 1995.”
Over the next 17 years, in addition to obtaining a master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration, he rose through the ranks starting as night shift patrol officer, then getting promoted to drug task force officer, sergeant over his shift, supervisor over detectives, and finally to assistant chief in April 2008. He held that spot until he won the election and resigned to take office as sheriff of Jasper County on Jan. 1, 2013.
After being sworn in, Sheriff Kaiser said he made few changes. He updated some of the technology; moved the sheriff’s office from a rural area to Carthage (the county seat) and dispatch from the sheriff’s office to the 911 center; and, in the wake of the catastrophic EF5 tornado that struck Joplin the previous year, made a few adjustments to the disaster management plan.
“Since taking office, I’ve faced the same challenges of every sheriff in Missouri and law enforcement in general — overcrowding in the jail and trying to do a lot on a little budget. Coming from a municipal department, I tried to prepare for some of the challenges, but until you’ve actually experienced the full effect of everything that goes on in a sheriff’s office, you just don’t realize what the job entails,” he said. “We have around 150 employees in 13 different divisions. When you start looking at the number of transportation miles driven, civil process papers served, CCW permits issued, arrests made, cases worked, inmates housed, the sheer volume of work that goes on every year is very surprising. I don’t think the pubic realizes just how busy their sheriffs are. But I’m blessed to have a great group of committed and dedicated people working here and that has made all the difference.”
They’ve recently added the Stepping Up Initiative, designed to divert people with mental illness from jails into treatment, and implemented a pre-trial release program that allows low-offense inmates to be released and monitored as they move through the legal system. Future plans include the possibility of expanding the jail, which was built to house 183 inmates but averages 233.
Although the job keeps him busy, Sheriff Kaiser enjoys competitive shooting, fishing and hanging out with his three children and six grandsons, ages 2 to 6, and wife Brenda when he’s not working.
“They’re all very supportive,” he said. “The grandkids are young but on Letter S day in the oldest grandson’s kindergarten class, the sheriff showed up and when the teacher introduced me as Truman’s grandpa, his chest puffed up and he was grinning from ear-to-ear! And although I wasn’t married to my wife when I made the decision to move from reporting to policing, she would have supported me fully because she’s supported me every step of the way. I give credit for a lot of my success to her.”