Incumbent faces former prosecutor
Candidates have different backgrounds, take different approaches to office
The two challengers for Porter County Prosecutor bring different backgrounds and approaches to the office.
Incumbent Brian Gensel, a Republican, is seeking his fourth term in office. Gensel, 57, of Union Township, has worked in the office for 30 years. Gary Germann, a Democrat, started his legal career in the office before serving as prosecutor from 1978 to 1982. Germann, 70, of Valparaiso, has worked in private practice as a defense attorney since then.
The prosecutor’s office has been working hard to make sure that people who don’t belong in jail are not kept there, Gensel said. Defendants charged with nonviolent offenses that are not drug-related, such as driving while suspended, should not be kept in jail unnecessarily.
“Everybody gets involved quickly to make sure these people don’t lose jobs and aren’t prejudiced because they can’t post bond,” he said, adding someone with a drug addiction problem is likely to remain in jail for the services and treatment provided there.
The biggest changes in what the prosecutor’s office sees now compared to when Germann last held the post are the heroin and opioid epidemic in the county, and the increase in violent crimes, he said.
Germann’s approach in drug cases is to go after the people at the top, the dealers, and not just the casual users.
“I think we have to provide some treatment and alternatives to those who are addicted, because it could be any of our kids,” he said.
Germann would expand the use of the veterans court and drug court programs, noting the prosecutor assigns participants to those programs and they should have higher participation rates than they do now.
Gensel noted the high level of experience by the deputy prosecutors in his office and his work with local law enforcement, community corrections, and other entities.
“With the success we’ve had on these serious cases, people trust us and that we know what we’re doing,” he said.
Germann would like to see a higher success rate for the prosecutor’s office for the most serious crimes tried in the county.
“If you go to trial, it’s important to win that case because that establishes your strength to defense attorneys,” he said, adding plea agreements should be determined with care. “For me, it’s divided up between being tough on the violent offender and taking an individual look at the nonviolent offender with the idea of helping people recover.”
In March 2017, the county’s undercover drug unit was shifted from the prosecutor’s office, where it had been based since 1994, to the sheriff ’s department.
The change, Gensel came, was the result of a “shift in philosophy” and Sheriff David Reynolds’ development of the Heroin Overdose Response Team.
“It made sense,” Gensel sad, adding his office still works with the unit and recently secured an $8,000 grant for the unit.
The unit is a good fit for the sheriff ’s department, Germann said, because of who the sheriff is.
“They are hitting all sorts of home runs for us but the prosecutor still has to be involved in that, because the prosecutor is the chief law enforcement officer in the county,” he said.
Going forward, Gensel said he wants to make sure the younger deputy prosecutors in his office get the experience they need to develop their skills, and continue to be sensitive to how his office deals with each defendant.
“People come to Porter County because it’s a safe county, and it’s a safe county because of the partnership between the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement,” he said.
Germann said he would bring a hands-on approach to the office, with deputies going on ride-along with local police departments to gain both a relationship with them and a better understanding of what they do, and being present with police during highprofile cases.
“We’re their lawyers,” he said. “We should be there.”