The candidates for Richmond County sheriff explained how they would tackle the tough issue of reducing crime in Augusta at two community forums Monday.
Most of the six men – two Republicans and four Democrats – addressed the issue by explaining their vision of “community policing,”
and how they thought it could contribute to solving endemic problems in the city’s crime-plagued neighborhoods.
Sheriff’s Lt. John Ivey told those gathered at the Carrie J. Mays Family Life Center in the Turpin Hill area that in his concept of community policing, officers would need to be more involved in the community.
“When we go out instead of passing you on the street we are going to stop and start talking,” Ivey said. “We don’t have to spend a whole lot of money to do this.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Robbie Silas said he also believes in the community policing model, but that without additional money to put more officers on the street, it couldn’t be done.
“To do community policing by the federal guidelines, we can’t afford it,” he said, saying he supported more community involvement and youth programs instead.
Republican Freddie Sanders agreed, explaining the term “community policing” has a specific set of guidelines set by the Justice Department, that basically requires small, autonomous departments to be set up in problem neighborhoods.
“If they tell you that they can do this without any money, they’re fooling you,” Sanders said. “It’s a buzz word, a media gimmick and it is not going to work.”
Sanders said if elected he would be accessible and accountable, but he would concentrate on law enforcement and “put the thugs in jail.”
Sheriff’s Capt. Scott Peebles said putting people into jail wouldn’t stop under his watch as sheriff, but that wasn’t the only solution.
He said sheriff’s deputies are not empowered or directed to solve the chronic problems that they encounter on their beats and end up being “report takers.”
Peebles said he would implement a system in which deputies are expected to know what is going on with their communities and to come up with plans to make an impact.
“Community policing is a problem solving method for crime,” he said.
Mike Godowns, the other Republican candidate, didn’t make it to the Turpin Hill forum, but he did appear later at the Warren Road Community Center at a forum sponsored by the West Augusta Neighborhood Alliance.
Godowns said he, too, is a proponent of community policing, but said he wanted to address problems affecting morale within the department first, such as ending nepotism and improving deputy pay and benefits to stop “the revolving door” of officers leaving for other departments.
School Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree arrived late for the Warren Road forum after attending the Board of Elections hearing on a challenge to his eligibility. The challenge was denied.
“We are still in this race,” he told the crowd, before briefly addressing the last question about crime in some neighborhoods.
Roundtree said each area has its own problems and different resources to deal with those problems.
He said that as sheriff, he would work individually with community leaders and organizations to come up with solutions.
“It’s all about dialogue and partnerships,” he said.