With the general primary election just days away, Bulloch County sheriff candidates Noel Brown and Jared Akins each are working to reach voters with messages about why they feel they are the right choice for the job.
Each sat down with the Statesboro Herald in separate interviews to share their qualifications and their ideas on ways to improve the Sheriff's Office, its relationship with the community and the media, and its fight against crime, as well as their thoughts on the sheriff's role in that battle.
Brown said that his military career and work with the public as a road deputy and now as a commander of the department's civil and warrants division gives him what he needs to lead the Sheriff's Office.
"I have 26 years' experience - 22 in law enforcement, four in the military. My life experiences have prepared me, and I have a love for the people," he said. "You have to have a love for it, because you wouldn't be doing it for the money."
Akins said that his work with the Sheriff's Office, including as chief deputy for more than three years and in various divisions for 15 years prior to that, has prepared him for the duties of sheriff.
"I have worked in every single section of the office," he said. "Until you work with (employees in each division), it is very hard to supervise them as a whole. I feel a sheriff has to have that overall knowledge and grasp, and it has been excellent preparation for being sheriff."
He said that his current position as chief deputy involves overseeing all divisions of the department.
"You get to see how administration and personnel work, deal with budgetary situations and (see) how the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office works with Bulloch County commissioners and other agencies," Akins said. If elected, "I won't have to learn all that and can continue what I have done over the past three and half years."
Brown said that he also has worked in the jail and is certified as a jail and senior deputy. Currently, he serves civil papers and supervises one employee but has supervised up to five in the past. He also volunteers twice weekly to transport prisoners at night.
A sheriff's role
Brown said that he feels "communication, accessibility and accountability" are the main responsibilities of a sheriff.
"It's not only me but the people who work around you inside the office," he said.
For Akins, "As chief law enforcement officer of the county, the main responsibility (of the sheriff) is to protect people and property and make this county a safe place where you can raise a family; to be diligent in communications and reach out to the community, but first and foremost, the protection of the people of the county."
He said keeping up with the county's growth is a major concern.
"This has forced us to deal with different kinds of crimes," Akins said. "The number of violent crimes is lower (in Bulloch County) than other counties, but it is a growing problem, and there are different kinds of drugs coming in. We have to adapt methods that deal with crime changes."
Contrary to statements he said others have made, Brown said he plans to keep the Statesboro-Bulloch County Crime Suppression Team in operation if elected as sheriff.
"I have no plan or desire to eliminate the CST," he said. "I believe drug crimes and drug addiction are the underlying cause for many other crimes, including crimes of violence.
"Our CST is confronting several particularly vicious and well-armed drug gangs. I realize the importance of the CST in this fight," he said.
He also said that social media plays an important role in solving crimes and promised that if elected, he will be "open" with the media.
"For lookouts and ongoing investigations, social media has been a plus for us," he said, adding that with the public's help, deputies have located suspects within as few as 30 minutes of posting information online.
Akins agreed: "It is so critical to our daily operations. Social media has allowed us an immediate reach to people, and it helps us solve crimes and catch criminals faster."
He also said he would work to maintain a positive relationship with the media if elected as sheriff.
"Being transparent is what we strive to be, part of being fair and balanced," he said.
Akins said that he wants the Sheriff's Office to grow along with the population.
"We want to continue to work toward a modern, professional Sheriff's Office. As the county grows, we're going to have to grow with it," he said. "We need to find ways to modernize that are tailored to Bulloch County, but we want to keep what is good. We don't want to turn our deputies into robots but want to keep them service oriented."
Maintaining good relationships with other law enforcement agencies is something he hopes to continue as well.
"People are applying all the time to join our department, but we are called partners for a reason," he said, adding that no agency is better or worse than any other.
Brown said that if elected, he would make sure all divisions of the Sheriff's Office are recognized and involved in the department's daily operations.
"I will never tout the stats of one unit over another," he said.
He also said he would focus on thoroughly training and equipping officers.
"With the jail at (around) 400 (inmates), it is important not to neglect training and recruiting and making sure deputies are properly equipped," he said.
"Patrol deputies are first on the scene of armed robberies and ‘shots fired,' often by themselves on a scene a long ways from help. I will always fight to equip and train patrol deputies so they can deal with these type situations."
Retention of jail personnel is also an area he would address, he said, as well as interacting fairly with the public and "taking time for problems, no matter how small or big."
Brown and Akins face off Tuesday, May 24, in the general primary. Both are Republicans; the winner will run against Democratic candidate Keith Howard in the Nov. 8 general election.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.