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Sheriff candidates spar
Akins, Brown present ideas, qualifications
comp sheriff
Bulloch County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Jared Akins, left, and Bulloch County Sheriff's Office Sergeant Noel Brown participated in a debate Tuesday night at Statesboro High School. The two are seeking the Republican seat for Bulloch County sheriff that will be vacated by, Sheriff Lynn Anderson, who is retiring from the position at the end of this year. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Both Republican candidates for the Bulloch County sheriff’s seat squared off Tuesday evening, not only answering questions from the moderator but also from each other.

Sgt. Noel Brown and Chief Deputy Jared Akins, both employed by the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, are seeking to fill the seat that will be vacated Dec. 31 by incumbent Sheriff Lynn Anderson, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

The general primary is May 24, and the winning candidate between the two Republican sheriff candidates will then face Democratic candidate Keith Howard in the Nov. 8 general election.

The debate, held in the Statesboro High School auditorium, was hosted by the Bulloch County Republican Party and moderated by Statesboro City Councilman Phil Boyum. The event drew about 400 people. Topics included budgets, promotions and salaries, public safety and relationships with the community and other law enforcement agencies.

Brown drew the first chance to question his opponent, asking Akins whether he felt that he was the most qualified to have been promoted to the position of chief deputy more than three years ago, pointing out that there were several other officers with more training and years of employment.

“You’ll have to ask the sheriff that,” Akins replied. “He was the one who promoted me. I have not lorded it over anyone, and (the other deputies) are extremely capable.”

He said he feels that if anyone was upset over his promotion, “we have overcome what could have been a negative experience” and that he is thankful for the opportunity to serve as chief deputy.

Brown then asked Akins how he would handle overtime, and the option to save money by offering compensation time, if he were elected.

Akins said that the law dictates how compensation time is handled, but that he “wouldn’t be opposed to looking at it.” In many cases, workload demands would prevent an investigator from taking compensation time because of court cases and other responsibilities that would restrict off-time opportunities.

Then, Akins asked Brown what changes he would make, if elected, to personnel and departmental structure.

“There are several people I’d like to see brought up through the ranks,” Brown said, adding that many employees have “untapped ideas” that would benefit the department.

Akins then asked Brown how he would handle changes to the budget process. Brown suggested seeking federal funding through grant writing to supplement budget funds.

 

The questions

Boyum then asked each candidate 10 questions, taking turns as to which candidate was allowed to answer first.

When asked about his qualifications for the job, Brown touted his military and law enforcement experience and responsibilities, having been promoted and given awards throughout his military career, as well as working for the Georgia Southern University Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office. He also said his assets include having strong family ties and community relationships.

Akins said having worked as a patrol deputy, field training officer, investigator and chief deputy has given him experience in all aspects of a sheriff’s duties, including communications with county leaders, the media and other agencies in law enforcement, as well as administrative duties. He also addressed relationships with other law enforcement agencies in the county, recalling a time when local agencies did not enjoy the solid working relationship that exists today.

“We need to ensure clear lines of communication with chiefs of all these agencies,” he said. “We’re a community and have to address crime as a community.”

“There is no doubt that I love each and every agency in this county,” Brown said, suggesting “down time” gatherings as well as business associations between officers of all agencies.

Brown then answered a question about special units within the Sheriff’s Office, saying that if he is elected sheriff, “they are essential and will stay in place.” Akins said that as the county grows and crime increases, the need for specialty units will increase, but “patrol deputies are the shield” between citizens and crime.

Both candidates were asked to address the county’s growth and to comment about the largest challenge to local law enforcement.

“Growth is a fact of life,” Akins said. “It has positive and negative effects on our community.”

As the community grows, so will crime, he said.

“We will never be small again,” and such growth takes planning and a proactive approach, he said.

Brown said increasing the number of patrol deputies is important to be able to handle the growth the county is experiencing.

“We are undermanned on road patrols,” he said.

As more people come into the county, crimes such as elderly abuse, domestic violence and predatory child abuse increase along with the drug problem, he said.

Brown also spoke on what needs to be done to ensure the county is adequately covered by the Sheriff’s Office.

“We need more deputies on road patrol,” he said. “We’ve got to spread out. Statesboro, I love you, but there are much more areas that need covering.”

Akins agreed but explained that to have deputies patrol zones would take 16 additional deputies at an initial cost of $1.6 million to taxpayers. Citizens would have to “talk to the commissioners” to fund that many extra deputies, he said.

 

School resource officers, marijuana and technology

Both candidates mentioned the need and benefit of school resource officers, with Brown stating that he would like to see SROs in every school. Akins said that there is a current memorandum of understanding with the Bulloch County Board of Education to place two new SROs in schools, funded through “savings in the budget as well as help from the Board of Education.”

Both candidates said they do not like or approve of medical marijuana, but if the law changes to allow it, they would enforce the law.

As far as recruiting and retaining officers, Akins said hiring is “probably one of the toughest things we do these days.” One out of 10 applicants for a position is chosen because the others do not meet standards, he said. One step toward improving recruitment and retention would be to ask commissioners for starting salary raises and better benefits.

Brown said that if elected, he would “definitely work on … salaries.” Recruiting through job fairs and area colleges and tapping into federal funds that might be available would also be a move he would make, he said.

Brown said he would like to see tablets instead of computers used in patrol cars and have deputies use body cameras and GPS units in handheld radios.

Akins said current computers in patrol cars were paid for through seized drug funds and that state legislation soon will enable departments to utilize body cameras at affordable rates.

“Body cameras are coming,” he said.

Each candidate expressed the importance of communication regarding the prevention and handling of officer-involved shootings and confrontations.

Being proactive and prepared is vital, Akins said.

“You don’t start preparing for a Ferguson the day of a Ferguson,” he said, referring to the riots and protests following the shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer.

Departments need to build strong community relationships and have “strong internal affair policies in place,” he said.

Brown suggested getting out, meeting the public and “speaking with each and every church” in a community, as well as training officers to keep their cool and “be kind” when faced with negativity.

After the questions were answered, both Akins and Brown summed up their reasons for running for office.

Akins said he hopes the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office remains an inspirational model for other agencies.

“We’ve never had a problem filling” available positions within the department, he said.

Brown promised to be accessible and accountable for his actions if elected.

“I know I can fulfill the duties as sheriff,” he said.

 

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

 

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