Veteran lawman Ross Mellinger has formally announced his intent to run for sheriff of Jackson County.
Mellinger, who is now the chief deputy of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, said his love for his home community was his primary motivation to seek the position.
“I could have gone anywhere and done this job, but I’ve never wanted to leave Jackson County,” he said.
Mellinger began his law enforcement career at age 20, first as a corrections officer with the sheriff’s department. He later became a road deputy, and also worked as a K-9 officer. It wasn’t long before he made detective. Sheriff Tony Boggs then promoted him to chief deputy.
Along the way, Mellinger passed up opportunities to work for the U.S Marshal Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“At the time, I was deputized by both. I was recruited pretty heavily by both to take their entrance exams. It was a tough decision at the time, on both occasions,” Mellinger said.
Mellinger continues to have close relationships with the Marshal Service and the DEA, since he works with them frequently on local investigations.
“No matter where you go in law enforcement, you’re designed by the nature of the work to make a difference. You have to lay it out and examine for yourself where you want to make a difference. You can make it in your hometown, or you can make it somewhere else. It was more important for me to see my work finished here,” Mellinger said.
The decision to stay local was also in Mellinger’s own best interest. It was a decision born from following his conscience.
“To me, I thought not only would it make a difference in this area, but it would make a difference for me personally. I sacrificed a lot of money, but I always thought it was important to see your work through. Finishing what you started has always been really important to me,” he said.
Mellinger said he never would have reached this point in his career if not for the working relationships he’s developed through the years, including his friendship with Boggs.
“We were friends long before I started,” Mellinger said.
In fact, it was his working relationship with Boggs that sparked Mellinger’s interest in detective work.
“When he was a detective here, he kind of took me under his wing. There were a couple of instances, probably by luck more than anything, where I was able to be involved in a couple of large-scale investigations,” Mellinger said.
These initial investigations were a springboard into drug investigations to come later. In the mid-2000s, Jackson County experienced a surge of methamphetamine manufacturing and trafficking. It was during this scourge that Mellinger cut his teeth as an investigator. That work continues today as Mellinger and his fellow officers work to combat the opioid epidemic that plagues the county, as prescription painkillers and heroin continue to cause deaths here and across the nation.
“After the meth lab problem started here in Jackson County, we were just on the cusp of losing control of the county. I really think it was the intense, proactive approach that we took at that time that kept it from getting out of control,” Mellinger said. “We have drug problems here in the county, but they pale in comparison to some other places across the state and across the East Coast. You can’t outrun those sorts of crimes.”
Mellinger believes the county’s success with drug interdiction is the result of cooperation and teamwork.
“When I look at what we’ve been able to do in the last 20 years, I think it’s by and large because of the dedication and the teamwork involved. That’s something I’ve always kind of tried to promote. A leader doesn’t necessarily hang his hat on his own accomplishments. It’s the ability to bring out the work ethic and the best in your coworkers. I took a strong interest in the drug work and Tony blessed with me with a rather lengthy leash at times to go out and pursue these sorts of things,” Mellinger said.
Mellinger also attributes his success over the years to a good working relationship with the public. Law enforcement in Jackson County wouldn’t have been half as successful at curtailing methamphetamine traffickers without tips from concerned citizens.
“Before the regulations existed on pseudoephedrine, you me or anyone else could just go to the dollar store and buy pseudoephedrine right across the counter. The public was so instrumental in backing us. That
was really what helped us be successful early on,” Mellinger said.
Though he’s a lawman first, Mellinger understands that sheriff is a political office. Where politics are concerned, as with policing, Mellinger said he has a stick-to-your-guns philosophy.
“I don’t play politics, but you’ve got to wear a lot of different hats. I’ve been registered Democrat since 1996. I was asked by a variety of Republicans to switch prior to this campaign. I thought long and hard about it. Especially on the national level, there are things I don’t agree with from either party,” Mellinger said.
Mellinger said he doesn’t believe in switching parties for appearance’s sake.
“At the end of the day, I realized if I switched parties, then I’m becoming exactly what I despised. I’m not a Democrat at heart or a Republican. I’m not a politician. I’m a policeman, a father, a son, a husband, and a farmer. If I switch, then I can’t be true to myself. I can’t be true to Jackson County. I can’t be a true leader if I’m willing to sell myself out. I stand behind the merits of my past. Anyway, it’s more important to have the blessing of your community,” he said.
Mellinger said if he’s elected, he will continue to reduce the flow of illegal drugs in Jackson County. Drugs are an underlying cause of many other crimes, and if you tear out the roots, the weeds will not grow.
“People oftentimes don’t realize how many crimes are a direct result of the drug trade - violent crime, property crime,” he said.
There’s another growing problem that Mellinger believes is caused by drugs. So many parents are addicted and their children are either being raised by family members or the foster care system.
“Grandparents, aunts, and uncles are raising kids that aren’t theirs. The foster care system is overburdened. Oftentimes, people don’t recognize these secondary issues,” Mellinger said. “My vision is if you can cut the head off the snake, the body dies.”
To do that, Mellinger said he’s not too proud to ask for the help of everyone he’s ever worked with in the law enforcement community, including those agencies who once attempted to recruit him.
“I’ve never been one that’s too proud to say I don’t need your help. They have connections we can’t offer. They have resources we can’t offer. They have finances we can’t offer. They have techniques we can’t offer. I think we’ve been able to accomplish some things that are unparalleled,” he said.
Mellinger said he also enjoys the community involvement aspect of working in law enforcement. Annually, the department participates in Shop with a Cop and Cops and Bobbers, both programs that encourage a positive relationship between law enforcement officers and the community. Incidentally, Mellinger’s campaign manager and treasurer is Teresa Thacker, agent and owner of Ripley Insurance Centre and Ravenswood Insurance Center, and someone who was instrumental in starting the Cops and Bobbers program.
While Mellinger said he believes his record stands on its own, he knows he didn’t get there on his own. He said his peers in law enforcement have helped him gain more than enough experience to lead the county as its next sheriff.
“I have more indictments than anybody, more felony arrests, more convictions, more asset forfeitures - $440,000 was the last number. I’m not tooting my own horn by saying that. I owe a lot of that to, not only Tony for allowing me to stretch my legs and take a proactive approach, but these other agencies who allow us to give them good investigations and put the work and time in to make it happen, as well as everyone I’ve ever worked with,” he said.
Mellinger and his wife, April, have three children, Katie, Logan, and Peyton.