Silas says community service is cornerstone of campaign for sheriff

BACKGROUND

 

Sheriff’s Lt. Robbie Silas doesn’t have the number of years in uniform as his Democratic opponents, but he cites his decades of devoted involvement in community organizations and youth sports as strengths they don’t have.

Silas, who has been a road patrol deputy with the sheriff’s office since 1998, worked briefly as a deputy under Sheriff Charlie Webster after graduating from Butler High School in 1986.

“I worked there for about eight months, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers called and said, ‘We are going to offer you a job,’ ” Silas said. “They paid for all my schooling, which is a $100,000 education today, or more.”

For the next 12 years, Silas worked as a union electrician at Savannah River Site, until federal budget cuts in the late 1990s began to reduce projects at the Department of Energy site and rounds of layoffs eliminated thousands of jobs.

In 1998, Silas found himself among many looking for work.

“I went down to the union hall, and we had about 160 folks on the books with no work in sight,” Silas recalled. “Down at the unemployment office and there was a line outside the door…. I just didn’t know what I was going to do.”

He called his older sister Patti, who was a secretary for Webster, and invited her to lunch. Silas said when he arrived at the sheriff’s office, Webster met him at the door and invited him to fill out an application, which he did. Webster called him that afternoon, he said.

“He called and said, ‘Come down and get your stuff; you start in the morning,’ ” Silas said. “So I went from being an electrician to being a policeman at 4 o’clock that afternoon. And I’ve been there since, 15 years.”

Silas, who married his high school sweetheart, said the other love of his life has been youth sports. He serves as president of the Westside High School Booster Club and Masters City Little League, which he has been involved in for 25 years. He and his wife, Alison Rene, have two children and still reside in south Augusta, where he grew up.

UNDERSTANDING COMMUNITY NEEDS

Silas said his years on road patrol give him a good feel for the community and an understanding of what Augusta needs from a sheriff.

“I want to make a difference in this community,” he said. “Working on the road patrol for the last 15 years gives me an opportunity to know my business folks, the homeowners and the children in this community.

“I know where the needs are in this community. I know how to address them being sheriff, I think that I am the one for the position. What separates me from the other (five) right now is my family values, my law enforcement training – I have more training than most of the folks that are in this race – my community involvement and my financial stability.”

Silas said that unlike some other candidates, whom he wouldn’t name, he owns his home and his vehicle and has strong family values because he has been married to the same woman for 23 years.

“I’ve been consistent,” he said. “I’ve been married for 23 years. My wife has been a stay-at-home mom for 20 years. We’ve made the sacrifices to know what it takes for her to be there with the children in the schools. We’ve made the sacrifices just to make it better for our family.”

BACK TO THE STREET

Silas said he knows that some areas have been hard hit by economic problems and he wants to alleviate community crime so businesses may once again want to locate in those blighted areas.

“Years ago our inner city was thriving,” he said. “We had businesses in our inner city. We had Castleberry’s; we had bottling plant. A lot of those folks were working. They may not have been very educated folks, but they were skilled workers.

“Well, when those jobs went away, a lot of those folks didn’t know what to do,” he said. “They got into poverty. It spread into their second and third generation (of) children, and that has led to crime.”

Silas said he wants to send two-man cars to high-crime areas to make them safer.

“If businesses come back, those people in those communities can go back to work,” he said. “We can make it a better place to live for those folks in that community.”

Getting more deputies back on the street is critical to making the entire community safer, Silas said, explaining that his strategy includes beefing up traffic enforcement.

“Back in 1995, when we consolidated, we did away with our traffic division,” Silas said. “We want to get back to a traffic division. We had 40 fatalities last year. Getting back to traffic division will help us take a bite out of those fatalities.”

If elected, Silas said, he will take a hard look at all the positions with the sheriff’s office to look for ways to move people out of offices and back to the streets.

“We have a lot of folks who are contemplating retirement towards the end of the year,” he said. “And as I become sheriff we want to look and see who is leaving. If we can take some of those positions that are not on road patrol I’d like to shift those down to road patrol so we can add more officers to the street.”

He said some restructuring of departments and patrol beats might be necessary to accomplish his goals.

“Do we need three captains over road patrol? Do we need three captains over this division or whatever? We want to look at that,’ he said. “If we can strategically place administrators in other positions where we can put more people on the street, that is what we want to look at.”

PROMOTION POLICY

Like the other candidates, Silas said he thinks there is room for improvement in the department’s promotion process. He wants to revamp the process to make it more open for all deputies, he said.

“First of all we are going to give everybody a fair shake,” he said. “When a position comes open, we are going to post that position. Everyone that meets the requirements is going to go through the interview process.”

“Everybody doesn’t get a fair shake at each position,” he said. “The corporals and sergeants are pretty much chosen by the upper management. There’s no testing; there’s nothing in place to get everybody a fair shot.”

That equal opportunity means diversifying the sheriff’s force, Silas said.

“I think we need more minorities, to include black men and women, and white women,” he said. “We are short on women altogether in our department, and I think that we need to diversify our department so that it reflects the community.”

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

Silas said he wants all his deputies to become more involved in their communities – attending church, helping with schools and youth programs and being a part of their neighborhood associations.

“I’ve been involved with youth for more than 25 years,” Silas said. “We need the men and women of our department to do the same. They need to be involved with our seniors; they need to be involved in the home associations, our churches and any other organizations in our community. They need to be there.

“We need them coaching youth baseball, basketball, whatever it may be. The men and women of this department have to be involved in the community to make things better.”

Silas said the deputies will have to follow his lead to know what is expected of them in creating better community relations.

“I lead by example, and I’ve been community policing since I’ve been on this department,” he said. “My first beat was Hyde Park, and you can go in there today and ask folks. They knew me; I listened to their problems. I listened to their family problems. I worked that neighborhood, took a lot of crime out of that neighborhood. I was involved with the needs of the community there.”

FIRST FRIDAY

Silas said events such as First Friday need to be better organized to avoid incidents such as the recent shooting in which six people were wounded.

“Organization is the key to anything,” he said “Right now, First Friday, I don’t think anybody has taken the initiative to organize it, to take care of the things that we need to. As far as the law enforcement perspective, we’ve got to protect people, that is the biggest thing. When we have big events like this, we need to be notified, we need to know where people are at, where big crowds are at so we can make sure people are safe.”

Silas said his 15 years on road patrol give him all the experience he needs to be the next sheriff of Richmond County.

“Being on road patrol my entire career, I’ve done the same things investigators do,” he said. “There are many cases that we handle that investigators don’t come out for.

“We handled more than 200,000 cases a year,” he said. “As road patrol officers we are the first ones that the public see out there, and we have done everything they can do and more.”

– Steve Crawford,
staff writer

NEXT SUNDAY

Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Scott Peebles is next Sunday’s scheduled Newsmaker Q&A in The Augusta Chronicle’s series of interviews with sheriff’s candidates.

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