ABINGDON, Va. — Washington County’s longtime sheriff and a former employee of the Sheriff’s Office will face off in the Nov. 3 election.
Sheriff Fred Newman, who is seeking a fifth term, is being challenged by Blake Andis, currently chief deputy at Virginia Highlands Community College.
Andis has been in law enforcement for more than 25 years, working in the county jail, as a patrol deputy, a school resource officer and an investigator in the Sheriff’s Office. He served under five sheriffs.
A lifelong county resident, Andis said he knew after graduating from high school that he wanted to go into law enforcement in the place he calls home. Becoming sheriff is the next logical step in his career, he said.
Following his graduation from Abingdon High School, Andis continued his education at VHCC, then transferred to Bluefield College. He is also a graduate of the University of Louisville Southern Police Academy.
He is a certified instructor from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services specializing in firearms, active shooter situations and drug enforcement. He is also a trained instructor for the Department of Homeland Security, specializing in incident response to terrorist bombings, prevention and response to suicide bombers and understanding and handling bomb incidents at schools.
Most recently, Andis graduated from the Washington County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program.
If elected, Andis said he would provide specialized training to educators and increase the number of school resource officers. Training would also be offered to churches and businesses, along with site evaluations on how they could improve security.
“This would include free handgun safety classes, too,” he said.
He would increase the visibility of the Sheriff’s Office, with more deputies on patrol across the county to ensure that they are familiar with the communities and available to citizens. Andis said he would also perform citizen checks regularly.
“This would build trust and friendships among the community and the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
He would also create a citizen advisory board comprised of members from different communities.
Andis acknowledged the widespread drug problem in Washington County and said he would increase drug enforcement efforts and launch “the most aggressive enforcement against drug dealers and illegal drug manufacturers in Washington County’s history.” He specifically spoke to the methamphetamine manufacturing that occurs in the county.
“The majority of the crime in the region is drug-related and the increase in drug arrests and reduction in supply should decrease crime drastically,” he said.
Not only would there be more arrests, there would be a comprehensive plan to work with treatment centers to improve the recovery rate of addicts and provide resources for those who are addicted and to educate the public and businesses on drugs.
Ensuring that officers are trained in crisis situations, such as dealing with those who have mental health issues, would also be a priority, Andis said.
Newman, who has been the county’s sheriff for 16 years, said he is seeking re-election because he enjoys serving his community.
“The county has changed tremendously since I was first elected,” Newman said. “My goal as your sheriff is to provide a greater sense of safety and well-being among the citizens of Washington County, and to increase the trust in the Sheriff’s Office through fair, honest and professional law enforcement.”
Some of his initiatives while in office have been to keep up with the increased need for law enforcement services. The sheriff said he has realigned personnel, adding more where needed, and has taken a proactive approach in dealing with the complex issues involving law enforcement these days, he said.
Programs have also been added or increased within the office’s community service division, Newman said.
“In 2000, there were eight Neighborhood Watch groups meeting within the county. We currently have 20 local Neighborhood Watch groups meeting on a monthly or quarterly basis,” the sheriff said.
“One of the programs that I am most proud of is the Sheriff’s Office Once a Day Every Day School Program,” Newman said.
This program, implemented in December 2012 after the Sandy Hook School shootings, requires every sheriff’s deputy or detective — including the sheriff — to check at least one school every day while school is in session. These safety checks are in addition to the regular visits made by the school resource officers.
“We hope to lessen the opportunity for a serious situation to occur by randomly placing more deputies in our schools on a daily basis,” Newman said.
If re-elected, Newman said he plans to continue focusing on cracking down on drugs, improving school safety and fighting domestic violence.
“You put a person in jail and that’s the short-term fix, but that doesn’t solve the problem. That person, at some point, is going to need some help to get off the addiction,” Newman said, adding that the Sheriff’s Office works with Highlands Community Services to assist with addiction treatment options.
Newman said that many local crimes in the area are related to drugs.
“People don’t break into houses to steal to feed their family or pay their bills. They break into houses to support a drug habit,” he said.
The sheriff was born in Washington County and is a longtime resident of Southwest Virginia. Upon graduation from Chilhowie High School in 1971, Newman received an associate’s degree in education from Ferrum College. In 1975, he graduated from East Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Newman landed his first law enforcement job with the Chilhowie Police Department. After a year, he joined the Virginia State Police and served as a senior trooper until 1990. In 1996, he joined the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as a patrol captain and three years later was successful in his first bid for sheriff.
During his tenure, Newman has served on a number of boards including: the state E-911 Wireless Board; executive board of directors Southwest Virginia Criminal Justice Training Center; United Way of Washington County board of directors; National Sheriffs’ Association Standards, Training, Ethics and Education Committee; board of directors Virginia Sheriffs’ Association Region I; Virginia Special Olympics Region 11 director; Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority Committee member; Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission; and Washington County Substance Abuse Coalition.