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With Terry Maketa in his final term as El Paso County sheriff, the speculation was sure to begin soon over who might run to replace him in 2014.

But now, there's someone who tops that list. And if she runs and wins, she'll make history as the county's first female sheriff.

Paula Presley, a 27-year sheriff's employee, last week was appointed undersheriff to replace Larry Kastner, who retires later this month. The county's first female undersheriff, Teri Goodall, retired in 2007.

For now, Presley, 47, demurs when asked about her political plans.

"It's certainly something I'll take under consideration," says the Springs native and Widefield High graduate, "but it's still early."

Maketa is in the second year of his third four-year term, which will be his last under term-limit restrictions. He defeated opponents by huge margins in 2002 and 2010 and ran unopposed in 2006. Such popularity can't help but rub off on his second-in-command, just as it did when his predecessor, John Anderson, hand-picked Undersheriff Maketa to succeed him in 2002.

Presley, who holds a masters degree in criminal justice, served as bureau chief of detentions from January 2007 until Feb. 20, when she traded places with Law Enforcement Bureau Chief Joe Breister.

While in charge of the Criminal Justice Center, Presley launched a project to reduce recidivism through programs that teach inmates life skills and require them to pledge not to re-offend. Also under her watch, inmate telephone access was changed to a system that requires identification before calls are placed, leading to better monitoring and prosecution of inmates who try to intimidate witnesses, a problem in the past.

Presley also oversaw the process for getting the CJC licensed for substance-abuse treatment, making it the only county jail in the state with such a designation. Recently, she installed a SecurPASS apparatus that electronically frisks people booked into jail, preventing contraband from being hidden in body orifices.

The county has been sued several times in recent years by inmates who were injured, or families of those who died in jail custody. Presley notes that such lawsuits often get dismissed, and also that there hasn't been a substantial payout by the county during her tenure at the jail, excluding an $85,000 settlement with the family of a man who died of a heart attack while in a courthouse holding area.

"With any jail, there's a huge liability, and there are, unfortunately, incidents that occur — deaths or serious injuries," she says. "It's important for the public to understand, just because someone files a lawsuit doesn't necessarily mean we are found in the wrong."

Asked if she has an agenda planned as undersheriff, Presley says she wants to be part of Maketa's "forward-thinking" approach, which gave rise to the detox facility (something she oversaw while at CJC), the jail recidivism reduction program, and a project to train citizens to help with patrol duties.

As undersheriff, Presley will be paid $114,756 a year, a bump from her bureau chief pay of $108,252. It's also more than her boss' pay of $111,000, which is set by statute.

Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Michael Schaller says interviews will be held to fill Presley's former position.

zubeck@csindy.com

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