Two of the three candidates seeking election as Bulloch County’s next sheriff fielded questions about special units, deputy safety and the importance of educational public programs during a forum Tuesday night at Ogeechee Technical College.
The forum was hosted by the Statesboro Jaycees, which partnered with the Statesboro Herald in livestreaming the event.
Republican candidates Jared Akins, currently Bulloch County sheriff’s chief deputy, and Noel Brown, a sergeant with the Sheriff’s Office, were present, but Democratic candidate Keith Howard was unable to attend the event. Howard told the Statesboro Herald that he had a prior engagement involving a civic meeting to which he had committed previously.
Brown and Akins will face each other May 24 in the upcoming general primary, the winner of which will face Howard Nov. 8 in the general election.
Local TV news personality Dal Cannady moderated the forum, asking questions that were submitted online by the public before the event.
Crime Suppression Team
Cannady asked the sheriff’s candidates how they felt about the Statesboro-Bulloch County Crime Suppression Team, a specialized unit comprised of officers from the Statesboro and Georgia Southern University police departments and the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Sheriff’s Targeted Enforcement Patrol, or STEP, a part of the CST specialized unit. They also were asked about what they foresee in the unit’s future.
Brown said that if he is elected, he plans to “keep the unit intact” but place emphasis on arrests that are most sure to end in convictions, pointing out that many arrests end with the offenders “back on the streets to commit the same crimes.”
“Arrests are important, but so are convictions,” he said.
He also advocated more training for patrol deputies, who are most often first to arrive on the scene.
“Criminals … tell us they will not come to Bulloch County to sell their drugs or commit crimes because of the (CST’s) reputation,” Akins said.
He rattled off statistics citing the success of the specialized unit, which places a concentrated effort and saturation of law enforcement in high-crime areas.
“The CST functions as a proactive arm … and a clearinghouse with communication for all of our agencies,” he said.
Education vs. arrests
Another question proposed to the candidates regarding educational programs versus arrests stated that some could perceive each candidate’s views on the topics as interpreted to mean they “would prefer to reduce the number of arrests in favor of educating and informing, and they may not feel that is the best way to keep the citizens of Bulloch County safe.”
“Our first priority is to enforce the law,” Akins said.
He acknowledged that there have been more educational programs for the public added to the sheriff’s department’s menu in recent years “because we need the community’s support, and that is what the community-relationship activities are geared towards. You can’t have one without the other.”
Hopefully those educational programs will help citizens learn to “stay away from crime,” he said, but overall, the sheriff’s department’s main purpose is to protect the public and enforce the law.
Brown said that he supports efforts to educate citizens and “reduce the numbers of times we have to make arrests.” He named several educational programs that he said have been successful, calling the work deputies do in holding these programs “invaluable” and “more important than making arrests.”
He said arrests can be used as lessons as well.
“We can educate when we incarcerate,” Brown said, adding that doing so “builds trust” in law enforcement and reduces repeat offenses.
Deputy safety, happiness
A question from someone who identified herself as the wife of a law enforcement officer asked what each candidate would do to ensure deputies’ safety, job security and happiness.
“Safety of all our deputies has always been a number one concern for me,” Brown said, adding that he knows “what it’s like to be in combat,” referring to his past military experience. He promised that if elected, he will “always find the truth” in any personnel issue or problem, and he will discipline or reward deputies as needed.
“I will not stand behind them; I will stand beside them,” he said.
Akins said that he would ensure the best possible environment for deputies and employees if he is elected.
“You have to work with your deputies, have to be involved,” he said.
Working alongside deputies and investigators who are handling cases and dealing with crimes out in the field is important and earns respect, he said.
“That trust is built day by day,” Akins said.
In their introductory speeches, Brown said that drug enforcement may be a priority in law enforcement, but crimes against the elderly and children and domestic violence are of equal importance. He said that if elected, he will seek advice and guidance from employees and “continue to improve and innovate the office.”
Akins spoke of his strong Christian beliefs that he would bring to the office if elected, as well as a long family history of public service. He said that his diverse experience as a patrol deputy, investigator and field training officer and as chief deputy over the past three years has qualified him to handle all parts of the daily operations of the Sheriff’s Office and jail.
When asked how each would improve the agency if elected, Brown said that he would be accessible.
“I want all citizens to feel they can approach us,” he said.
He said he would also “restore morale” within the office and “embrace technology.”
Akins said that the Sheriff’s Office maintains an “open-door policy” that “encourages proactive law enforcement.” He said that if elected, he will work toward forming a “full-time warrants squad.”
“We’re here to make interaction with citizens a priority, as we have for the past three years,” he said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.