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RACINE COUNTY - Racine County Sheriff's Department Investigator Christopher Schmaling has gotten the voters' promotion to sheriff.

Schmaling jumped to a big early lead and held it all night long. At 11:50 p.m., unofficially he was leading with nearly two-thirds of the votes.

Following former Sheriff Robert Carlson's retirement announcement, the race to replace him originally attracted five candidates. Schmaling, a Republican, won his September primary.

That lined him up Tuesday against Democrat Joseph Buckley of Racine, a Racine County Jail corrections officer; and Independent Jeffrey Gerrietts of Racine, a Mount Pleasant Police Department sergeant.

Schmaling, a Kenosha native, began his 17-plus year law enforcement career as a correctional officer with the Lake County, Ill., Sheriff's Department in Waukegan.

He has been with the Racine County Sheriff's Department for about the past 15 years - about the past 10 years in the detective bureau. Before that, Schmaling said, his assignments included working as an undercover drug agent in Racine, working in the jail and the patrol division.

Tuesday night Schmaling said he would start as sheriff by re-examining staffing levels, equipment and other departmental issues "to see where are the areas were we have room for improvement. And I will talk to the people doing the jobs."

The safety of his officers will be a high priority, Schmaling continued.

He said he also thinks, heading into the new job, that the department is understaffed and he will look into whatever shuffling of positions, and adding staff, can be achieved to improve operations.

During the campaign he also stated, among his top priorities, establishing a "true" Racine County Metro Drug Unit and Racine County Major Crimes Task Force.

During the campaign Buckley said his frustration with losing jobs in the jail to privately contracted companies led him to run for sheriff. He said his first priority would be to bring back those jobs.

For Gerrietts, it was his second run for sheriff; in 1999 he ran against incumbent Bill McReynolds, who is now county executive. He said he could bring in new ideas from outside the department.

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Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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