Last week when Congressman Doug Collins, candidate for the U.S. Senate seat previously held by now-retired Sen. Johnny Isakson, visited Bulloch County, someone asked him how he would "defend," in other words definitely not "defund" law enforcement.
Collins, a Republican from Gainesville, has represented Georgia's 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2013. As ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee from Jan. 2019 until March 2020, he gained national notoriety as a leading defender of President Donald Trump during the Democrat-led impeachment process.
A veteran of the Iraq War, Collins continues to serve as a chaplain and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
"You just hit on something really personal for me," he said to the woman who asked the question Thursday at Bulloch County Republican Party headquarters.
Collins is one of nearly 20 candidates seeking the Senate seat, now held by another Republican, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the vacancy. All candidates regardless of party will appear on the same ballot in the Nov. 3 open special election, and Collins acknowledged that a Jan. 5 runoff is very likely.
"It's one thing to go along and discuss the changes that need to be made in policing, which they do," Collins said. "Now, some of you say, 'Doug, what are you talking about policing for?' Well, I think I've got pretty well the best right, maybe in this room. My father was a Georgia state trooper for 31 years. I'm a trooper's kid from North Georgia. ...
"That is where I come from, and when I see this issue of 'defund the police,' let's just call it what it is, it's called disrespect the police," he said.
Collins described seeing a recent news image of an incident in New York City in which two police officers attempted to disperse people blocking an intersection, and someone began choking one of the officers.
"The people in the crowd around were simply actually videoing it, taunting this officer while he got choked and actually went to the ground, and nobody stepped forward," Collins said. "What was even worse to me was the mayor of New York did nothing. ...
"When I see a mayor who wants to do that, who won't stand up for his officers, when I see (Mayor) Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta not want to do a thing, when you have a rogue D.A. called Paul Howard who charges officers without doing a grand jury, without doing a GBI investigation, then all I've got to say to them is just, 'Get your rear end in a patrol car," Collins continued.
"When you patrol and you go out and do this stuff and you see what our officers go through all the time, then you'll understand what they got through," he said.
Bad officers out
"Now, any bad officers, get them out immediately," Collins added. "What they (officers in Minneapolis) did to George Floyd was wrong, I said that from the first. What they did, it was murder, and no real officer who was in there would want to keep somebody like that."
Collins noted that he previously served in a congressional Policing Strategies Working Group, which introduced a bill that authorized training for local, state and federal law enforcement on identifying mental health issues and de-escalating situations. He referred to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynn County, Georgia, as the training site.
"One of the things that our officers see all the time is they'll stop someone and not be sure if they're dealing with someone who may be drunk and belligerant or ... dealing with someone, especially in this area, who may be from the military who's having a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) episode," he said.
When Republicans held the House majority, the working group went to cities such as Houston, Detroit, Atlanta and back to Washington to talk about how to improve policing. They consistently heard first about pay to attract good officers, next about training "and then also hiring diversity of officers so that you reflect your community and are part of your community," Collins said.
He spoke of support for a community policing approach and funding to help local governments carry it out.
Fought Democrat bill
But he said he "fought hard against" a police reform bill that was passed out of the now Democratic-majority House just a few weeks ago, "because they wanted to do things that won't help."
The recent legislation would eliminate "qualified immunity" protections for police in performance of their duties, he said. Collins asserted that this would allow so many lawsuits that many small police departments across the country would "just simply go under" and "not because they're bad departments."
When someone asked if the Policing Strategies Working Group is still operating, Collins said it had been disbanded by Rep. Jerry Nadler. Nadler, a Democrat from New York, is House Judiciary Commitee chairman, a post Collins had been set to fill before Democrats gained control of the House through the 2018 elections.
About 50 people gathered in the local Republican headquarters near Ogeechee Technical College to meet Collins. In his introductory remarks, he reminded them of his role in the impeachment fight.
He got some applause asking if local Republicans were "fed up with Nadler," said Intelligence Committee Chairman "Adam Schiff can't spell the truth, much less tell it," and added, "and Ms. Pelosi? God only knows," referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
All that House Democrats wanted to do was impeach Trump from the time they gained the majority, Collins asserted. He said the president "did nothing wrong" to warrant impeachment.
Collins said the three priorities for Georgia Republicans this fall should be first to re-elect Trump, second to re-elect Sen. David Perdue, and then to elect him, Collins, to give Perdue some help.
He said he's the sort of conservative who knows who he is.
" I don't have to poll-test am I pro-life or not, I don't have to poll-test if I believe the 2nd Amendment is actually one of the amendments, I don't have to wonder about how we deal with the, really, the leftist, communist or socialist takeover ... in which we're trying to re-decide how we want to do government."
Collins previously served six years as a representative in the Georgia House, and was deployed to Iraq while also a member of the Legislature. He also served as a church pastor for 11 years. He holds degrees from Atlanta's John Marshall Law School, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the former North Georgia College and State University.
His wife, Lisa , who accompanied him on the visit, is a Georgia Southern University alumna.