Sheriff Jim Gress has served as Otoe County’s chief law enforcement official since1983. Whether he will run for sheriff again in 2018 is yet to be determined.
If he does mount another campaign, he would like to see the election decided during next May’s primary. Jeff Lant, Gress’ opponent in the last election, has already announced he will run for sheriff again, as a Republican. Gress recently switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican but believes party affiliation at the county level is not all that important. He states, “You cannot win an election in Otoe County without Democrat and Republican support.”
Gress worked as a Nemaha County sheriff’s deputy for a year before first being elected as Otoe County Sheriff. When he initially took office, Gress says he had three deputies covering 800 square miles, and they routinely worked 72 hours a week. At that time, Otoe County relied on used patrol cars and outdated equipment.
Since those early days, Gress has worked to increase his staff to 14 deputies. Otoe County law enforcement officials now drive new vehicles, and the office continuously updates equipment. Gress sees these things as his greatest accomplishments over the last 35 years.
Although manpower has increased, Gress says the workload for his department has also grown tremendously. Two of his deputies are permanently assigned to oversee operations at the jail. There are more prisoners in the Otoe County jail than ever before, and the sheriff estimates 85-90 percent of those currently incarcerated are there because of drug-related arrests.
Drug abuse is a major issue for Otoe County, as it is for almost every county in the United States. Gress would love to be able to dedicate more resources to fighting the drug problem but says the money is just not there.
He does not blame anyone for lack of funding. Rather, he believes department resources are stressed due to increased criminal activity and costly but required technology upgrades. “I feel the Otoe County Sheriff’s Office has done the best we can do with the manpower we’ve got,” states Gress.
The department does outreach programming in the county when funds and time allow, but Gress says his office cannot implement a program dedicated solely to drug education. He would like to see a holistic approach to help alleviate the problem, with community members and organizations stepping forward to work together on Otoe County’s drug abuse issue. Doing so would help alleviate some of the stress on his department’s resources.
Gress feels it is important for the public to know how much time and effort his department dedicates not only to law enforcement, but also to administrative duties. He states, “Law enforcement is only about 51% of what a sheriff does.” Gress and his deputies are also responsible for transporting prisoners, providing courtroom coverage, serving legal documents, conducting sheriff sales and collecting unpaid taxes.
In addition, Gress oversees the 911 call center, the jail and the district court. He says if a person has not served in county law enforcement, it can be difficult to understand everything his department does. “If you’re a street cop, and you’ve never been involved in county law enforcement, it’s tough,” Gress relates.  
He says his department works well with the Nebraska City Police Department, and Syracuse pays $180,000 a year for his office to provide 24/7 coverage for its residents.
In the 2014 election, his opponent raised the issue of patrol districts for the county. Gress believes they’re a good idea but impossible to implement due to lack of manpower and resources.
His opponent in the last election also campaigned on 24/7 law enforcement coverage for the entire county. Between deputies on patrol and those deputies on call and ready to go, Gress says Otoe County essentially has 24/7 coverage.
Gress would like to see a new jail for the county. Although the current facility is only 28 years old, the number of inmates has increased dramatically over the past few years, and space is tight.
If he decides not to run for sheriff again in 2018, Gress would like to see someone from his department take over. He believes the transition would be simpler, and employees would feel more comfortable with the changeover.
Gress has no plans to make an announcement one way or the other until he knows who else will be running for Otoe County Sheriff in 2018. When he is comfortable with who is running, he will have an announcement at that time.  
Whether Gress runs for sheriff again or retires in 2018, he is proud of what he and his department have accomplished over the last 35 years. He states, “My success is not all about me; it’s about the people who work for me.”