Before a crowd of over 350, the two Republican candidates for Bulloch County Sheriff took the stage to hash out the tough issues facing the county. Fielding questions from a moderator supplied with questions submitted by citizens of Bulloch County, Jared Akins and Noel Brown discussed their positions on everything from salaries and department structure to medical marijuana and the Crime Suppression Team.
Akins and Brown both discussed what made them the most qualified candidates to be sheriff. Brown focused on his military background where he prepped for combat while Akins said a single moment in time or his career could not define him, but instead his entire career at the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office.
When pressed with how each will deal with adjacent and intertwining law enforcement agencies, Akins acknowledged that there was a time when there was a rift and agencies were not cross-sharing information. He said that harmed law enforcement and citizens and noted that “cooperation and coordination” were essential along with a clear line of communication. Akins said he would keep the “forward momentum” and ensure that the BCSO is not moving forward alone. Contrarily, Brown said there had not been an issue and he was unaware of a time when other agencies refused to help or offer information. He said people tug and disagree, but the offices still work together. Brown emphasized his daily interaction with the District Attorney’s office and probation in addition to the neighboring agencies in detailing his qualifications.
Both were asked about the future of integral specialized units like the Crime Suppression Team, which currently blends members from the BCSO, the Statesboro PD and GSU PD. Noel said he would keep CST in place but ensure that cases are done clearly and concisely the first time. Brown also said a considerable amount of revenue comes from CST and he said he stands behind the team. Akins similarly said he would keep the team in place and noted ways he has helped improve the team as Chief Deputy. Akins said the specialized teams are essential as the county grows to provide for a proactive fight on crime, whereas patrol is more reactive and acts as a “shield” for the people. He said he would ensure a balance of the two (patrol and specialized teams) remains in place.
Both acknowledged that growth brings positives and negatives and while Brown said he would like to see an increase in the number of federal grants the office applies for, Akins said a strong partnership needs to continue with the Board of Commissioners to not only increase the number of deputies on patrol, but to ensure there is a plan in place for the long term growth.
With that growth, Brown emphasized his desire to have more deputies in schools across the county, and while that wouldn’t place more deputies on the roads, it would put them in different regions of the county. The issue is one Brown has been stumping on since the launch of his campaign. Brown said, “Statesboro, I love you, but we have a whole bunch more out in the county.” Along that same line, Akins said funding has been the issue despite the fact that the Office has added four deputies over the last two years. He said to properly zone the county with adequate coverage, the Sheriff’s office alone would need $1.6 million in the first year to bring on 16 additional deputies. He said the first year of a new deputy costs the Office about $100,000.
Interestingly, the GOP also proposed the question on where the candidates stood on laws changing in favor of access to marijuana – medical or otherwise. Both stated firmly that they opposed the expansion of such, but should the law change through the legislature, they would enforce the laws on the books. Akins, in particular said, “My personal opinion is that it is harmful, we don’t need it in our community or our schools, but there’s a push in our legislature to make things more allowable. If that goes through, we will obey the law.” Brown said, “I don’t agree with it. I don’t want it.” He said if it was expanded, he would want to know the residences of the people using it medicinally.
In a spin, each candidate was awarded two questions of the other.
Noel Brown asked Jared Akins:
- “You were promoted to chief deputy over guys with more tenure and more training, do you feel like over those guys and all that training and experience that you were the guy for chief deputy?
Akins: You would have to ask the Sheriff (Anderson) about that. Those were his reasons. I would like to think that I have not made a mockery of the office. My hats off to the others who have offered their service…Working together we have overcome a situation that could have been about a lot of hard and hurt feelings.”
- “We were talking about adding deputies on the road, having to do with payroll and the budget. You on an hourly page with overtime like others, do you feel like if you went to a salary with comp times, money could be saved and more deputies could be put on the road?”
Akins: It’s something we could look at. When you get into overtime and comp pay, you start into Fair Labor Standards Act and you get into some things that you may not have intended. Much larger than you wanted. I wouldn’t be opposed to looking at it, but there are concerns….I don’t know if it would save enough money to hire anyone else on.
Jared Akins asked Noel Brown:
- “Any particular plans if elected, personnel changes or anything you’d like to see different in terms of the set up of the office?”
Brown: The structure is fine. There are several people I would like to see go up in the ranks and bring something to the table here in Bulloch County. There is untapped knowledge. They could bring some good ideas. We could utilize everyone inside the office when we decide to do things instead of a small group of people.
- “Anything you would like to see different with the budget process?”
Brown: “Again with grant writing. I think may be able to help with the budget process. Start tapping into some of those federal funds. They’re overflowing and I know where there at and I want someone to get started on that.”
Both candidates were asked about salaries and competitiveness with regard to recruitment and retention. Brown said he would like to see salaries change by working alongside the County Commissioners and the County Manager. He said the federal funds would be a good place to get more moneys and “be more attractable to those looking to get started in law enforcement. I feel like we need to be at Georgia Southern and Ogeechee Tech with job fairs attracting those folks.” Akins touted what the office has been doing and how longevity raises have been instituted, though he would like to see salaries and pay scales all increase. Akins noted that last year, the Office offered 8,000 hours of training and he believes the prouder a deputy is made through training, the more likely they are to stay with the office.
Akins and Brown both emphasized the need to grow the D.A.R.E programs and ensure that the office is keeping up with the technological advancements of the community before fielding likely the most controversial question of the debate: officer involved shootings.
Akins said preparing a community for a Ferguson-like incident is based on relationships in a community for years. Building bridges in the community and with the media are essentially in ensuring the relationships can endure an incident like Ferguson, he said. Using community forums to allow the citizens the opportunity to bring forth concerns and issues is just as important as a fair internal affairs unit. Brown said first and foremost, deputies have to watch their attitudes. “Treat others how you want to be treated. Teach our officers to be kind. Those things aren’t going to happen here if we keep one thing in mind: watch your attitude. They may get rough with you but you have to be the one to back up and take a step back.” Brown also noted that when the Internal Affairs division can’t step in, it needs to be the GBI, but regardless, he’ll never be standing behind his officers – he’ll be next to them.
Following the debate, Eric Cumbee, Chairman of the Bulloch County Republican Party, and Lindsay Gribble, Media & Communications Director for the Party, both said the debate turnout exceeded their expectations. Gribble said of the debate, “I’m incredibly proud of Bulloch County for the number of people that showed up for this event. Both candidates did fantastic and were very well prepared.” Chairman Eric Cumbee seconded her comments saying, “We knew we had two great candidates, that was shown here tonight, and both are qualified to be sheriff. I’m excited to see what Republican voters do on Election Day.”
The Republican nominee will be chosen in the Republican Primary on May 24. Early voting begins May 2 and the last day to register to vote is April 26. The nominee will face Democrat Keith Howard in the general election in November.