Accessibility, drugs and metal theft were topics discussed Tuesday night during a forum in which candidates for the Bulloch County sheriff’s seat answered questions about their plans should they be elected.
Incumbent Sheriff Lynn Anderson faced challengers Tommy Sisson and Keith Howard, both of whom are retired Georgia State Patrol troopers, as they each answered questions about their take on important law enforcement issues.
All three agreed that metal theft is one of the most pressing crime problems in Bulloch County.
“We’ve got to have one of the cleanest counties in the state,” Anderson said, referring to the volume of scrap metal reported stolen recently.
New laws making it tougher for people to sell stolen metal to recycling centers will help curb the problem, he said.
Howard and Sisson both agreed that more visibility by law enforcement officers and communication with the public can help deter metal and other thefts.
Accessibility was a hot topic, with Howard saying that issue is what he based his campaign on when he decided to run for the office.
“Bulloch County citizens want to talk to the sheriff,” he said. “We need to go back to the good old days, where the sheriff would ride up to the house and talk to you.”
Sisson said that if he is elected, he will form a community advisory board that will meet monthly and help ensure accessibility.
“I want the community involved,” he said. “I’m going to be a visible sheriff; I’m going to be an accessible sheriff.”
Anderson said accessibility is important, but a sheriff cannot possibly be available at all times for problems that others in his office can handle.
“There are 77,000 people in this county, and I won’t sit here and lie to you and say I can see everybody,” he said. “It takes me two hours to get a can of paint at Lowe’s (because he stops to visit with residents).
“I’ve surrounded myself with some real good people who can answer questions when I can’t,” he continued. “I’m there if you need me. I might not be there at that second, but I’ll get there.”
One question asked candidates about the importance of cooperation between the sheriff’s office and other law enforcement agencies.
“You have got to have cooperation with the police department, with everybody, other county sheriffs, federal, state,” Sisson said. “It is very vital to have cooperation. You’ve all got to work together.”
Anderson said a recent article in the Statesboro Herald regarding a joint investigation into automobile thefts and break-ins by his office and the Statesboro Police Department was an example of the cooperation between agencies.
All officers with Georgia Southern University and Statesboro Police, as well as many others in law-enforcement related agencies, are deputized to allow them to handle situations outside their jurisdiction and help deputies.
“We communicate all the time,” Anderson said.
Howard said having good working relationships with public safety personnel, including emergency medical technicians, firefighters and first responders, is extremely important. He said if he is elected, he would plan meetings with other county law enforcement leaders to “make sure we’re on the same page of music.”
In response to a question about whether deputies have regular patrol routes and make regular checks on businesses and homes, Anderson explained that each patrol car is equipped with a GPS unit that tracks a deputy’s location.
Deputies make regular house and business checks upon request as well as monitoring on routine patrol. Deputies don’t “just drive by at 80 miles an hour and honk the horn,” but they stop, get out of the patrol car and leave check slips at locations they visit, he said.
Howard suggested having “some kind of zoning” with floating supervisors and deputies assigned to certain zones that they learn before transferring to another area.
“The GPS is a very important tool, but it’s got its hiccups,” he said. “You have to communicate, to be able to be found, talk with business owners during the day. We need to get back to community policing.”
Sisson agreed that deputies learning routes and “getting to know people in the community, with patrols in certain areas, would be something he would pursue if elected.
Fielding a question about what the candidates would do to avoid raising taxes, Howard suggested, “Get you a good grant writer.” Sisson said he would go over the budget “line by line” with the county manager and commissioners, but, “I’m not going to sacrifice the safety of the citizens or the officers” just to cut costs.
Anderson said he would continue to do what he has done already. After the jail was expanded in 2008, the county entered an agreement with the U.S. Marshal Service to house inmates, and since then, the U.S. Marshals Service has paid around $5.5 million to Bulloch County.
Drug seizures have paid for equipment such as guns, Tasers and computers as well, he said.
Sisson told the audience having 30 years in public service, being a member of the Statesboro Rotary Club for 15 years, having achieved master trooper status and being honored for bravery during the response to the 1996 Olympic bombing help make him a leader with qualifications to be sheriff.
Anderson said his 32 years with the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, with 12 years as chief deputy and several terms in the office prove he is capable of the job.
“The buck stops here, “he said. “I think I have served well. We don’t have any scandals, and I haven’t embarrassed you.”
Howard said he was not in supervisory positions during his law enforcement career, with the exception of a year as chief deputy in Jenkins County. His business experience, however, has been beneficial, he said, adding that he has “worked with district attorneys, judges and employees in dealing with the public in a different manner than I did as a trooper.”
All agreed that methamphetamine is the worst drug problem in the county, but also agreed that the problem has lessened.
Anderson said that five years ago, his department was “busting 15 to 20 meth labs a month,” but now the meth business has changed so much that it is more difficult to catch people because the labs have gone mobile.
“The problem is still there because it is easy to make,” he said.
Ingredients can be found at any grocery store and recipes can be found online. He said he doesn’t understand why people would risk making meth, especially if children are around.
“Anybody who would put battery acid in their system is just wrong,” he said.
“It is amazing what people will put into their systems just to get high,” Howard said.
Both he and Sisson spoke about assisting drug agents in meth busts when they were state troopers.
“Mobile labs are hard to find,” Howard said. “The problem won’t ever go away, but you’ve got to fight it best you can.”
Sisson again touted the importance of visibility. “It’s some bad stuff and has gone mobile,” he said. “The only way to catch (meth manufacturers) is be visible and ride the back roads. The community will tell you about suspicious activity.”
The candidates also discussed the importance of technology in law enforcement, agreeing it has a place and has value. Sisson stressed that proper training is important and said computers in patrol cars can be a danger as much as a tool, since writing tickets on a computer takes an officer’s eyes away from the violator.
Anderson said he discovered social media such as Facebook can be a useful tool in law enforcement.
“I found out you can hit one button and reach (thousands) of people,” he said.
Programs such as crimereport.com and sites such as the Bulloch County sex offender registry are helpful as well, he said.
In closing, each candidate reiterated reasons they should be elected.
“I want to be your next sheriff of Bulloch County,” Sisson said. “Under my leadership, I will be accessible, visible, and community oriented. I am dedicated to serving the people of Bulloch County.”
Howard told the crowd to “feel free to contact me with any questions. We’ve got to get community back in this office. We need better coverage of rural areas and get away from running radar.”
The sheriff’s race is “… probably one of the most important elections in your life,” Anderson said. “I have one question for you: When you went to bed last night and lay your head on your pillow, did you feel safe? Did you feel safe?”
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.