As Sheriff of Dougherty County, I am proud to agree that Black Lives Matter. I have heard some say that All Lives Matter – and they do, but that isn’t the point. The Black Lives Matter movement does not assert that Black Lives Matter more than others, but that they matter as much. It is about a level of equality that has been sought for centuries, but not yet attained.
This country was founded on the principles of equality and justice for all. Even though our forefathers may not have lived out those principles, they documented them in a manner that set a course for our common future. As we continue to struggle to fully realize those lofty principles, I am determined to do all in my power to ensure that the Sheriff’s Office is working toward total equality and complete justice for every person in our diverse community.
Fortunately, we live in a state that may be slightly ahead of the game. Georgia has already passed legislation allowing law enforcement to issue misdemeanor citations rather than arresting people. That allows us to avoid the confrontations that may arise while attempting to take a person into custody for a minor crime. As we move forward, there may be opportunities to expand the number and types of offenses that can be handled with citations rather than by arrest.
Georgia has also mandated that every officer, in order to maintain his/her certification, undergo cultural diversity, community-oriented policing, de-escalation techniques, and use of force training annually. We have not yet seen the statistical effect of such training, but the hope is that it will greatly reduce the number of times that officers use force.
As sheriff, I have worked to create transparency in all that we do. To that end, I would also like to have civilian oversight of all law enforcement deadly-force investigations. Although any use of deadly force would be investigated by the GBI, we understand there could be a perception of bias since the GBI is another law enforcement agency. I believe that investigations of that nature should be reviewed by a civilian board, or perhaps by the grand jury – which is made up of a cross-section of the community.
During my time in office, I have worked to reduce the reliance on incarceration for persons accused of crime. We understand that incarceration raises unemployment, erodes families, and burdens taxpayers. It also subjects people to a cash bond system that may not be equitable. We have worked to reduce the inmate population by nearly half and continue to seek alternatives that strengthen the community while keeping it safe.
We want the Sheriff’s Office to be a trusted community partner. We have worked tirelessly toward that end, but we know that there is much still to do. As your sheriff, I am eager to listen to your concerns. I want to hear you, and I want you to know that this is your office. As an elected official, I work for you. I am humbled by the trust you have given me, and I do not take it for granted. I look forward to working to maintain that trust as we find ways to make real progress.
If you have comments, concerns or ideas, please contact my office at (229) 430-6508. I look forward to hearing from you.