Incumbent Sheriffs Face Challengers in Lake, Lincoln Counties

David Coffman is taking on Don Bell in Lake County; Darren Short seeks to replace Roby Bowe in Lincoln County

By Justin Franz

Incumbent sheriffs in Lake and Lincoln counties are facing challenges in next month’s Republican primary.

In Lake County, David Coffman is challenging Sheriff Don Bell, who is seeking a second term as the county’s top lawman. In Lincoln County, Darren Short is challenging two-term Sheriff Roby Bowe, four years after he launched a write-in campaign against Bowe.

Both counties are struggling with similar issues: overcrowded jails fueled by an ongoing drug crisis and shrinking budgets.

Bell was elected as Lake County sheriff in 2014 after more than 20 years with tribal law enforcement. He said he’s proud of the department’s accomplishments in recent years and the team he has organized. He said he recently moved a second detective to the agency’s drug team to focus on the rise in opioid- and methamphetamine-related crimes. He’s also established an inmate worker program so those convicted of minor crimes and sentenced to jail can serve their sentences outside of the crowded jail.

“We have a great team in place right now and I want to continue moving this sheriff’s office in a positive direction,” he said.

Coffman, however, believes the current sheriff is not doing enough to combat the local drug problem and said Lake County has become a “sanctuary for people using dope.” Coffman moved to Polson less than two years ago after 30 years with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, where he served in a wide variety of roles, from bailiff to assistant chief. He also served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Coffman said if elected he would double down on efforts to combat the area’s drug epidemic by building a local drug task force. He also said he would rebuild the sheriff’s office’s reserve deputy program to place more officers in the community and do a major needs assessment to prepare the department for the future.

The candidate dismissed criticisms that he is new to the area. He said his experience will be invaluable to the community.

“We need a fresh set of eyeballs to get things done because the local guys just aren’t getting things done,” he said. “(Lake County) has a police model built for 1950s Mayberry that cannot deal with 21st century crime.” Mayberry is a reference to the fictitious and tranquil town of Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show.

In Lincoln County, Bowe said he’s running for a third term because “I still love running bad guys down.” Like Bell, Bowe said he’s worked hard to organize a strong and competent team and hopes the voters allow him to continue working. Bowe has been with the sheriff’s office for nearly 30 years and said he’s intimately familiar with the issues facing the county, especially its crowded jail. He plans on establishing a committee to look at options for the future of the jail.

Short has been in law enforcement for 20 years, including time at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s office.  Short left the sheriff’s office in 2006 and spent five years in Afghanistan training police officers under the oversight of the U.S. military. He returned to Lincoln County in 2011 and became a sergeant at the Libby Police Department, where he continues to work today. Short unsuccessfully ran against Bowe in 2014 because he didn’t think the current administration was doing an effective job of working with the community. He believes those issues remain and that he can do a better job tackling the county’s drug problem.

“The citizens of Lincoln County deserve a full-time, working sheriff,” he said.

There are no Democratic challengers in either county so the winner of the June 5 primary will be sworn in as each county’s next sheriff in January.

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