Government

Johnson County Sheriff Pulkrabek won't seek reelection in 2020

IOWA CITY — Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek knew as a kid he wanted a career in law enforcement, but he never knew where that career would take him.

Next year, that career — which has included four terms as sheriff — will come to an end. Pulkrabek announced Wednesday that he will not seek reelection in 2020.

“I never viewed this job as what should be a lifetime appointment,” said Pulkrabek, 55. “The previous two sheriffs did four terms. I think that makes sense. That’s a pretty good number.”

Pulkrabek said he is announcing his decision now to give his successor time to run and earn the support of Johnson County voters.

“I think it’s important to let someone who wants to try and work and earn this job get out and meet the public,” he said. “It makes sense to get out of the way and let people who are interested in the job campaign for it.”

Pulkrabek joined the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office as a jail deputy in July 1985. After four years working in the jail, Pulkrabek joined the patrol division. During his patrol career he was one of the first members of the department’s tactical team, the department’s first K-9 agitator and an informal field training officer, helping guide new patrol deputies.

When former Johnson County Sheriff Bob Carpenter decided not to seek reelection, Pulkrabek ran for the open seat in 2004 and won a contentious election. He took over in 2005.

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Pulkrabek has overseen many changes within his office and in area law enforcement during his career. During his tenure, the sheriff’s office upgraded the technology it uses, added dispatch staff, and remodeled the office and jail. Pulkrabek was one of the driving forces behind the county’s Joint Emergency Communication Center, which consolidated dispatching for the county’s public safety agencies.

One of Pulkrabek’s regrets is not seeing voters approve funding for a justice center that would have replaced the aging Johnson County Courthouse and Johnson County Jail.

Nonetheless, Pulkrabek has worked with others in the county on initiatives to lower the jail population an effort he said was done in conjunction with plans for a justice center.

“At one point in time, we had a jail population that was popping up at well over 200 inmates at times,” he said. “Working on that, we’ve driven that way down.”

One such effort to decrease the jail population was to work with Prelude Behavioral Services to do substance abuse evaluations for indigent inmates required by the court to get an evaluation. Previously, those inmates wouldn’t get their evaluation and would be rearrested, Pulkrabek said.

Pulkrabek was also the 2017 president of the Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association. But, despite his work at the state level, Pulkrabek said he doesn’t currently have any interest in seeking another elected office.

“The best advice I’ve heard is take a minimum of a year off to go figure out if you want to do something,” he said. “I’d like to start riding my bike more, my motorcycle more, play a little golf, be able to go to the gym at a different time. I don’t really have my sights set on anything right now.”

With more than a year and a half left to go in office, Pulkrabek said his goals are to continue hiring “good people,” promoting his employees into important roles and leaving the office in good shape for his successor.

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“I think it’s good to hand off the office that is solid and in a good position,” he said.

• Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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