The two vying for the position of Bulloch’s top law enforcement officer battled it out on the debate stage Thursday night.
Republican Noel Brown and Democrat Keith Howard fielded questions from moderator and Statesboro City Councilman Phil Boyum. Questions were submitted by the local paper, The Statesboro Herald, and the audience.
In his opening statement, Brown thanked his supporters from the primary, praising their dedication and hard work for helping him get to the general election. He diverted from the political introduction to thank the law enforcement agencies and community who rose to the occasion in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
Keith Howard, a former Georgia State Patrol trooper, also praised the community, law enforcement, and the linemen who worked tirelessly over the weekend following the storm. Noting his background in business and law enforcement, he said he is most qualified.
Should the sheriff’s race be partisan?
Howard said the Sheriff should be a nonpartisan seat. This is the first time in twenty years, Howard said, that the Sheriff’s race in Bulloch County will be decided in the general election instead of the primary. Howard said a sheriff for all people shouldn’t be bound to a party.
Portal native Brown said the sheriff’s job is to enforce laws, not make them. He seconded the notion that the office should be nonpartisan.
How quickly can enough employees be hired in the budget to have the office fully staffed and avoid or reduce overtime pay?
Brown said across divisions, the Sheriff’s office is fifteen deputies short, but he is confident in his ability to work with the County Commissioners and remedy the problem.
Howard, on the other hand, held stacks of paperwork on overtime pay. He said Captains are making $30,000 in overtime while some secretaries are pulling $20,000 in overtime annually. He said it’s important to focus on retention and raise the starting salary, but the shift to a new approach won’t be easy or quick.
Are you satisfied with how technology is being used in the cars?
Howard said he’s had the opportunity to inspect the computers used in patrol cars, though the technology is new to him. He said the laptop set up can be distracting, but the rules of the road require the use of technology and there isn’t a way around it. “You need the tools and technology to survive.” He closed noting he’s open to what’s financially feasible and in the best interest of the employees.
Brown said there is “definitely” a place for the technology from reports to finding addresses. He said an iPad or a smartphone may be more practical so the technology can leave the vehicle with the deputy during a traffic stop or on a house call. He noted that hovering over a computer can be a safety issue as well.
What importance would you place on purchasing body cameras?
Brown said cameras would allow the Sheriff’s office to swiftly respond to complaints in addition to increasing officer safety.
Howard, too, is in favor of the body cameras. He said the new technology often comes with resistance but after seeing the transparency of it all, the benefits are easily seen.
Are you satisfied with the training provided to staff?
Howard said training is mandatory through POST certifications and he’s pleased with the current training deputies are receiving. He said there’s always room for improvement on the community relations side.
Brown said training is paramount and unending. Community relations, he said should be addressed constantly, but the most important training is to remember “you’re always working with someone and you’re not always right.”
Are gangs growing in Bulloch County and is the Sheriff’s Office equipped to address that?
Brown praised the school resource officers and the Crime Suppression Team, but acknowledged gangs do have a presence in the county. He said the deputies have interaction with the gangs and as drugs and gang activity flock toward the university. Brown emphasized the need to stay in constant contact with the local police departments, the Georgia Southern Public Safety department, and the public.
Howard said community involvement and school resource officers build trust while the Crime Suppression Team keeps an eye on the activity – something he said the county can’t afford to be without. He also emphasized the importance of letting the public know when there is a problem so they can be the eyes and ears as well.
Have you chosen a chief deputy?
Howard said he has not yet asked anyone to be his Chief Deputy. He emphasized that if someone is doing a good job in their position when he’s elected, they will keep their job. If someone is unhappy with how he runs the Office, they can leave, but he won’t run them off.
Brown said his plan is to keep everyone secure with a job. He’s not made any plans to keep Jared Akins as Chief Deputy, but most everyone will stay where they are.”we’re too hinged on what’s going to happen, but I guarantee it will be what’s best for the community.”
What’s the biggest misperception about the Sheriff’s Office?
Brown said the biggest misconception is that the Sheriff’s office doesn’t return phone calls. He said they work hard to maintain person to person contact, and that’s something he will strive to maintain as Sheriff. “Everything is important. If you call, you want an answer or feedback.” He said growth has distanced them some from the community, but there’s still an opportunity to go back to how it used to be.
Howard said the misunderstanding is about the jail and the public thinking its a money-making mechanism. He said much of the money comes from the Feds, inmate telephone services, and commissary funds, but the county doesn’t set the fees for many of those services. He also said people think the Task Force is looking for tag light and seat belt violations, but it’s simply a tool for traffic stops. They’re not targeting certain folks.
Early voting begins Monday, October 17th.
The debate was sponsored by Dynamic Solutions, American Roofing, the Statesboro Herald, and Ogeechee Tech.