A U.S. Army veteran and longtime deputy with the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department is running for office to help fight the drug problem.
43-year-old Chris Rager announced his candidacy for sheriff on Tuesday.
“I decided to run, basically, because of the drug problem we have. There is an epidemic here,” said Rager, a member of the county Drug Task Force, during an interview Tuesday afternoon.
The other reason he decided to run was for kids. “My whole career seems to be wrapped around kids and their safety and teaching them responsibility and making good choices and self-esteem and things like that,” he said, noting he served as a school resource officer and DARE officer for over 10 years.
Rager is the fourth candidate to announce their candidacy for sheriff. Indiana State Police trooper Kyle Dukes announced in October, followed by Coroner Tony Ciriello on Monday and Sheriff Rocky Goshert Tuesday.
Goshert was chosen to finish out the remainder of Aaron Rovenstine’s term by a caucus in June after Rovenstine resigned.
“After Aaron was finished with his term and Rocky took over in the caucus, I believe that’s exactly what the sheriff’s department needed at the time. I think that with this many people in the race, I think we need to have choices that people can do their research and make the best decision they feel is needed,” Rager said.
On the drug issue, he said, “The heroin problem that we have now, and the opioid problem that we have now is not getting any better. It’s getting worse if anything. The number of heroin arrests that we have in a week. The overdoses. Needles. Opioids, prescription pills, heroin. All that stuff is getting worse.”
Rager said people say locking people up isn’t the cure. “Well, I agree with that, but I think jail is the first step in that process. If they’re not able to get clean on their own, basically, you have to force them to get clean.”
That could start with putting them in jail and giving the drug user a drying-out period. “Then maybe starting a program in jail, whether it’s Narcotics Anonymous or a program like that. Then once they get released, maybe they can get to a halfway house … where they can continue to make good decisions by surrounding themselves with good role models and people who are looking out for their best interests,” he said.
Rager said he’s seen quite a few people through his job who were addicts, went through a program, got a job, kicked their addiction and started a family.
“I think DARE is very important in the schools. I taught it in the fifth grade, and if you hit the kids young enough, they may not remember everything you teach, but if you can make a good impression … that’s a good program. That’s what kids need to hear today,” he said.
DARE also gives kids a picture of a policeman that’s not always negative, he said.
As a child, Rager grew up in Pierceton, moving to Winona Lake in 1985. He attended Warsaw Middle School, graduating from Warsaw Community High School in 1991.
In 1993, he enlisted in the Army and served with the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea from 1993 to 1994.
He was placed on inactive reserve status after being honorably discharged in 1996, and completed his service in January 2001.
One impression that people got about KCSD over the last year is that it’s somehow broken. Rager disputes that.
“I’d like to get across that the county sheriff’s department is not broken. During the caucus, that was a big phrase that was used. It basically put a bad light on the whole department,” he said. “The coverage that the citizens received, the law enforcement that the citizens received never waivered, never fell. It was always top notch.”
He said what happened with the KCSD administration had nothing to do with the department’s employees.
“I think that the sheriff’s department kind of has a tainted name now in this community, and I would like to get it back to rebuilding the trust of the community, the professionalism of the department. It doesn’t care where you’re from or what you do, our job is to protect you, enforce the laws of the state of Indiana,” he said.
Rager said the KCSD is always willing to work with everybody and any law enforcement. “But I’ll tell you this: It is a two-way street. It’s like being in a relationship. You can’t have a one-sided relationship and expect it to work. It has to be a give-and-take on both ends of the street,” he said.
County officers cover every jurisdiction in Kosciusko when a department doesn’t have an officer on duty or when a town doesn’t have any law enforcement of their own, he said.
“We work well with everybody,” he said, adding that if he is elected he would have an open door policy.
Rager began his law enforcement career with the North Webster Police Department. He worked there as a reserve officer before being hired full time in 1998. He was hired by Rovenstine in January 2000, serving as the first school resource officer for Wawasee.
After serving as SRO, he was assigned to second shift as a corporal working under the late Sgt. Jeff Shaw. He continued as a road deputy until his current assignment in the Drug Task Force in the detective division.
He has also been a SWAT team member for 14 years, currently assigned as the SWAT team sniper.
This year there have been mass shootings from Las Vegas to Sutherland Springs, Texas. While Kosciusko County has so far been spared such atrocities, Rager said KCSD does school security and has officers in the schools periodically. He said school security is definitely an issue, and he would like to make overtime available to officers to do things like that.
“As far as the churches go, I think most churches nowadays are starting security teams of their own. I know at my church we have a security team, which I’m in charge of. We have protocols,”?he said.
Rager has been a member of Warsaw Community Grace Brethren Church for 21 years where he also serves on the deacon board. He also teaches 3- to 6-year-olds in the Cubbies program.
The department trains for everything from active shooting response to mass casualty incidences, he said.
“The sheriff’s department is very good at coming together as a team. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work, and everybody works well together,” he said, citing the recent fatal stabbing in which a suspect was apprehended within two days.
As for his team at home, he and his wife, Stephanie, have been married for 22 years and have three children.