Ypsi Votes is a new series from the Eastern Echo featuring candidates up and down the ballot in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Get accessible and in-depth information on the candidates on your ballot. Note: The Echo does not endorse any candidate for any office.
This is the first of two articles featuring the candidates for Washtenaw County Sheriff. Check back in later this week for a feature story on incumbent Sheriff Jerry Clayton.
Ken Magee has spent almost 30 years in law enforcement, including as a police officer in Jackson, MI, as a federal agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, and as Chief of Police for the University of Michigan.
He has also served as an undercover agent in Detroit and at the Olympics. He was involved in the case to bring down notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Now, he sets his sights on home - Washtenaw County. He is running against incumbent Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, who was first elected in 2008. He ran unsuccessfully against Clayton in 2016.
Magee is campaigning on a platform of four points:
- Restore public trust in police services
- Ensure accountability at all levels of Sheriff's department, including the Sheriff position itself
- Improve transparency throughout the department so that the public can be informed
- Combat the opioid epidemic
Restoring public trust in law enforcement is critical for Magee, and he says he can get the job done through his transparency and accountability plans.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which gives the public access to documents from government agencies, is a huge concern for Magee regarding transparency.
The process to receive information from the Sheriff's office through a FOIA request is very cumbersome, Magee said. He wants the public to have "almost real-time access to police body cameras and have a unit dedicated towards making sure we're much more transparent, as opposed to people to go through the cumbersome process of getting a freedom of information request," Magee said in an interview with the Echo.
Magee’s background in drug enforcement makes him especially qualified to take on the opioid epidemic in Washtenaw County, he says. His brother passed away from an opioid overdose, making the opioid crisis very personal for him.
“I have a background in how to attack a problem like this. I’ve been involved in numerous strategies to stop drugs and problems within our community. And it’s not just about enforcement, it’s about treating people with substance use disorders, and handling people that are drug dealers. You treat the sick and you punish the crime,“ Magee said.
“I don’t believe we should be locking up someone for having a gram of heroin or something of that nature, I don’t believe in that at all,” he added.
In an interview with the Echo, Magee called Sheriff Clayton’s response to the opioid epidemic severely inadequate. Speaking about the Sheriff ensuring all officers have Narcan on them, which can help counteract the deadly effects of an opioid overdose, Magee said, “That is not a cure, it is just a bandaid.”
He created an acronym for how he would tackle the opioid crisis. PETER: Prevention, Enforcement, Treament, Education, and Recovery.
If elected, Magee says he will take part of the jail and turn it into a recovery center so that people can get treatment for substance use disorders. He would also eliminate certain high-level positions with the department to help pay for substance use and addiction specialists that would be available to work with people in the jail 24/7.
He says his childhood was intertwined with working with his mother on various social justice issues. He says his mom was heavily involved in the Democratic Party, and that she worked for decades in Washtenaw County to promote social issues like prison reform.
This upbringing influenced him early on, he says, when his mother would take him to events like NAACP meetings, ice cream socials in struggling neighborhoods, or taking him to movie screenings about figures like Martin Luther King Jr.
Above all else, Magee says he wants people to know he is deeply passionate about helping the people in his community.
“I’m not a politician, I’m a professional law enforcement guy that cares about his community,“ Magee said. "And I’m willing to do anything, within my power, to make sure that those four items of my platform are accomplished. And sometimes when you do that you ruffle feathers. I’m not in good graces with a lot of politicians because I ask the hard questions that some of them don’t want to answer."
Magee says he is not accepting any endorsements, and if elected he will not issue endorsements to political candidates, because he believes it is a conflict of interest.