Joco 913

Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning won’t run again

Susan Pfannmuller//Special to Th

Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning will retire from his post as the county’s top law enforcement officer when his third term expires in January 2017.

“I’m 66, I feel good and I just want to do some other things while I still can,” said Denning.

He said he decided early not to file for re-election to give other people time to consider running this year. The filing deadline is June 1 for elections this fall.

Although he said he’s been approached about running for other offices, he will not do so — at least not this year.

Denning’s brother, Jim, is a state senator, and Frank Denning is a legislative representative for the Kansas Sheriff’s Association. But a run at another office such as Kansas House or county commissioner is not on his agenda this year.

“Do I think about that? The answer is of course,” he said. “People have brought it up, but I won’t be filing for any office this year.”

But further down the road? “I never rule anything out,” he said.

Denning began his law enforcement career in 1969 as a reserve police officer in his hometown of Great Bend, Kan. He came to Johnson County in 1978 and has been sheriff for 12 years.

He cites the building of the county’s state-of-the-art criminalistics lab as a high point in his tenure. “It’s our flagship,” he said. The lab has been nationally and internationally recognized and its services are sought by many other agencies, Denning said.

“That is one of my prouder moments,” he said. He also points to the improvements in the county detention facilities as an accomplishment. “We have a responsibility to care for people even though they are inmates,” he said.

Although law enforcement officials elsewhere have complained about an atmosphere of public distrust recently, Denning said it hasn’t had an effect on either his decision or the standards of the sheriff’s office in recruitment. In a way, the protests about police treatment of detainees in other cities echo those seen in the late 1960s and ’70s, he said.

But in Johnson County, hiring has continued apace, with a recent class of 19 just graduated from training and another 19 ready to start next week, he said.

Denning will serve another year as sheriff before his term is up, and that will mean another round of budget talks with county commissioners. There were fireworks between Denning and county commissioners two years ago over a county audit and proposed budget, with Denning at one point threatening court action if his office’s funding needs were not adequately met.

“I didn’t enjoy some of those exchanges but I felt it was necessary and would do it again to protect the office,” he said.

Things have quieted since then. Denning says his office and the county commissioners and county manager are on good terms. Denning said officials have worked for consensus and compromise and he expects they will again for the 2017 budget.

“But I’m not going to take my hands off the wheel,” during the final year in office, he said. “We will have another rugged budget year,” he said, citing difficulties throughout the state of Kansas. “It won’t be cookies and cream by any means.”

He doesn’t have a candidate in mind for his replacement, though it’s possible there may be a couple from inside the sheriff’s office, he said.

Once he signs over the job to his replacement, he said he plans to spend more time drag racing his 1971 Chevy Nova. Denning and brother Jim have long been car enthusiasts and Denning and his wife, Robin Lewis, visit various tracks to do quarter-mile Division 5 racing.

Denning said he would leave the office in good shape but that change also might be good for the office. “There’s a lot to be said about getting a new set of eyes, a different approach or a different philosophy,” he said.