Dade County Sheriff Max Huffman

Sheriff Meets Challenges Head On

By Nancy Zoellner

Back in the early 90s, Max Huffman was working in IT. His good friend was working as a deputy for the Wright County Sheriff’s Office.

The young-ish Huffman would often ride along with his friend as he patrolled, listening attentively to stories about the trials and tribulations of chasing bad guys and protecting good guys in a rural county. Finally, in 1996, he decided that he, too, wanted to make a difference in his community and enrolled in Southeast Missouri State University’s Law Enforcement Training Academy.

After graduation, he volunteered as a reserve in Dade County while continuing to work in the corporate world. But when a road deputy position opened up, he applied, was hired and has been in law enforcement fulltime ever since.

“It just clicked. I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life and was fortunate to have a very good FTO. That changed my entire career because I learned a lot of good information that made the job not only interesting and safe but also fun to do,” he said, adding that it was so enjoyable that, except for a stint at the Barton County Sheriff’s Office while he campaigned for sheriff, his entire career has been spent at Dade County. His friend that got him interested in law enforcement comes to town occasionally to visit and work as a reserve.

“I actually had a rare opportunity to try out the job before I tried to get it,” Sheriff Huffman quipped, explaining that he was chief deputy when the current sheriff, Steven Stapp, was activated with the National Guard and he was appointed to serve in his absence. “That’s all it took for me to realize that I could do the job, I could do it well and I wanted to be sheriff so I could serve my community.”

He said that when Stapp returned from active duty, he resigned, took a patrol position with Barton County and soon after started campaigning. He won the primary and had no one running against him in the general election. He was sworn into office on January 1, 2013.

After taking office, Sheriff Huffman said he hoped to build a new 50-bed jail to replace their aging and overcrowded 14-bed facility, but the budget wouldn’t allow it so instead, he focused on improving everything he could. Through those efforts, he was able to increase the number of deputies patrolling the county from three to seven. He also began a program that, through careful budgeting, has allowed him to replace one vehicle per year.

In 2014, he was able to upgrade to the Jail Tracker Records Management System and said that has been a tremendous benefit. The program stores information electronically and allows them to share information in real time with other jails and sheriffs’ offices on any device with an internet connection. He said being able to share information about detainees — things like gang affiliations, suicide attempts and behavioral health — has allowed his staff and detainees to stay safe.

“Without the assistance of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, and more specifically Sheriff Kent Oberkrom, who headed up that push, we would still be using yellow note pads and Excel spread sheets! I can’t say enough about the help Sheriff Oberkrom gave us. But now, unfortunately, we’re struggling to fund the system,” he said, adding that although the public is appreciative and supportive — and his commissioners are supportive of law enforcement — finding money to satisfy the law enforcement budget has always been a challenge. Lately, it’s gotten even harder.

“Although the commissioners approved my budget, because we’re primarily an agricultural community and we’re funded by sales tax and general revenue, which is down, we’ve actually been asked to reduce our staff by attrition this year,” the sheriff said. “It’s difficult because everyone wants good law enforcement but that doesn’t come cheap and some people just don’t understand what law enforcement does for the amount of pay they receive. But we will find a way to continue delivering the best service we can because that’s what we do.”

Cross-training deputies to work both the road and in the jail has been helpful in scheduling and stretching his dollars a little farther. His deputies also work their own drug cases, “and almost all crime in our community is drug-related in one form or fashion.”

Although the job comes with many challenges, Sheriff Huffman said knowing he has the support of his community has helped. Officer-involved shootings and injuries and delivering death notifications — especially when children are involved — have been the most gut-wrenching. To see that cases are handled to the best of their ability and provide justice for victims has been the most rewarding.

He said it’s also been rewarding to know that he has the support of his now-grown children. “In fact, my daughter was also bitten by the law enforcement bug and now works for Homeland Security in Tucson, Arizona. My son lives in Minnesota and is CEO of a dairy cooperative and is also supportive although he probably secretly wishes I’d get back into the corporate world,” he laughed.

“Although the job ‘has its days,’ I very much enjoy what I do and hope to continue doing it one more term. Then I plan to retire and farm, raise cattle and enjoy all that the Ozarks have to offer.”