The slightly sodden crowd filled the fellowship hall at Moses Missionary Baptist Church on Walker Street for a 9 a.m. breakfast and forum with sheriff’s Capt. Scott Peebles and schools Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree.
Both candidates, who will meet in a runoff election on Aug. 21, described similar visions for a sheriff’s department under their control, which would include “community policing,” citizens advisory boards and a force more actively involved in the communities it serves.
Peebles emphasized obtaining national accreditation for the department, which he said would make the sheriff more responsive to the community and improve recruiting and promotion policies and create a more diverse force.
“Shouldn’t your sheriff’s office be held to the highest national standard?” Peebles asked the crowd.
He said the sheriff’s office was a powerful political office and having national accreditation would help ensure transparency and accountability for his and future administrations.
“The sheriff answers to nobody,” he said. “I think that is potentially dangerous for a community.”
Peebles said he would transform the force from one built around reacting to crime to one built on community service. He said deputies will have to change the way they work and relate with members of the public.
“We’ve got to pound it into their heads that their job is to serve this community,” he said.
Roundtree said the black community has to acknowledge that pervasive crime is a problem that everyone needs to deal with, not just police.
“We know what happens in our communities,” he said. “We’ve got to quit making excuses and come up with a program to address it.”
He said better education and providing youth with options other than crime are critical to finding solutions that work.
If elected, Roundtree would make certain that the sheriff took a more active role in reaching out to youth and intervening before adolescents and teens got caught up in a life of crime. He said he wanted to make deputies role models for youth, not people to be feared.
“The mentality out there is that I’ve got to fear the police,” he said. “We’ve got to change the way y’all think of us.”
He urged those in attendance to come to the polls on Aug. 21 so they could have an influence on how the sheriff’s office functions in Richmond County.
“It has been almost 28 years since we had a race that was this important in this county,” he said. “The next 10 days are important to the future of you and your children.”
Former Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams said the number people who showed up to attend the forum despite the weather indicates there is great interest in the sheriff’s race. He expects a big turnout for the runoff election.
“People are just tired of how things are,” Williams said. “They are ready to make a change.”
Afterward, Earnest Harvey said he hoped whoever was elected could do something about the number of parolees being returned without notice to the streets of Augusta. He said both of the candidates had good ideas and excellent qualifications for the job. He wasn’t sure who he would vote for in the runoff.
“They are both very balanced,” Harvey said. “It is going to be a real tough decision to make.”