Stephen Korte grew up on the family farm watching old John Wayne movies, dreaming of the day he’d be tough enough to take on the bad guys. However, as he grew older, those dreams faded and didn’t resurface until his freshman year of college. “A lot of the guys on my floor of the dorm were criminal justice majors and it kind of stirred something – and I thought that sounded interesting. My family had always placed a high priority on community service, whether in civic organizations or church, so I decided to switch from an ag major to criminal justice as my way of serving. However, after one year, I decided college wasn’t for me and I joined the Navy,” he said.
When he returned home, he joined the reserves and took a construction job. But as a married man with a child, he decided he needed to work in a field that was more stable and less dependent upon the weather so in December 1996, he applied at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. When the Pike County chief deputy heard, he encouraged him to apply there. He did — and started work as a jailer a couple days later. Soon after, he transferred to communications as one of Pike County’s original 911 dispatchers. He held that job until January 1999, when he attended the Law Enforcement Training Institute in Columbia.
“It was just the natural progression — the next step — in serving my community,” he explained.
After graduation, he worked as a road deputy for two years, then left the sheriff’s office and later, took a part-time job with the Bowling Green Police Department while also working part time for Ag Services. Then in 2004, he was deployed to Iraq for seven months, serving with the United States Naval Construction Battalions, better known as the “Seabees.” When he returned home, he went back to the Bowling Green PD as a fulltime officer. Over the next four years, he was deployed for another seven-month period during the winter of 2007-2008 with the military and was promoted to sergeant with the police department. He held that position until he was elected sheriff of Pike County in 2008.
Sheriff Korte said he ran for office because he felt the community was ready for change and he was the one who could provide it.
“The former sheriff did a good job but he had been there 20 years. I had new ideas and felt my experience in leadership positions in both law enforcement and the military would allow me to do a good job. I guess the community agreed because I was elected,” he said, adding that although he wasn’t met with any big surprises in his new position, he was expecting to get out of the office more. “I found that running the sheriff’s office is really like running a business. You have to manage the different departments, anticipate changes, oversee human resources, keep watch over the jail and operate within your budget. Most people don’t realize that as sheriff, you alone are responsible for how your entire office runs. It’s not like a municipal department where the mayor, city administrator and board make a lot of the decisions.”
One of his goals was to take a more proactive stance on criminal investigations and narcotics and another was to add staff to provide more service to the citizens. He accomplished both soon after taking office. He also undertook a small and inexpensive remodeling project that added 16 more bunks in the jail, taking them from 34 to 50 beds, “And we manage to keep them full most of the time!”
During his first year in office, Sheriff Korte also completed the former sheriff’s plan to update technology by bringing in a new server-based CAD RMS/JMS (records management system and jail management system).
Since that time, he’s focused on increasing their presence in the community. As part of that plan, this year they partnered with Bowling Green R-I School District to provide a fulltime school resource officer. The sheriff said he’s hoping to eventually bring the program to all schools in Pike County.
He said he also plans to continue working at solving past crimes to get restitution for victims, and to continue their proactive stance against illegal narcotics to curtail new crimes.
“We’re members of the East Central Drug Task Force and work very closely with them but we also have our own drug investigators. That pays off in more ways than one because the people involved in illegal drugs are also the ones out there stealing. Proactively investigating illegal drug activity has helped us solve a majority of our reported property crimes,” he said.
Sheriff Korte and his wife Angi have seven children, many of whom like to play sports, so when he’s not serving his community from behind the desk, he’s serving on the field or court as a softball, football, soccer or basketball coach, as a member of the VFW and as an active member of his church.
“I do what I can for my community. That’s what initially led me to this career and I plan to continue because that’s just who I am,” he said.
By Nancy Zoellner-Hogland