More than 100 people turned out Wednesday evening to hear the sheriff's candidates speak at the second forum of the week, which was taped at the Turner Lake complex for broadcast on a local cable channel.
Five of the six sheriff's candidates took questions from audience members and local news media representatives during the hour-long question and answer session, with Newton County Sheriff's Office Capt. Marty Roberts committed toa previous engagement.
Topics ranged from the openness of information and access to the sheriff's office to illegal immigration to working with municipalities within the county.
Each candidate expressed support for programs to rehabilitate inmates and offenders, including faith-based programs.
In response to a question on handling resources to increase staffing, DeKalb County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Chris Cowan said he would start by assigning staff according to their skills and aptitudes. NCSO Lt. Ezell Brown promoted the idea of "cop on the dot," or increasing patrols in areas with more reported crime. NCSO Lt. Gwen Hightower said she would establish a recruiting officer to attend job fairs and fill currently vacant positions.
All the candidates issued reassurances of maintaining an open door policy when asked about the availability of information from the sheriff's office. Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton pointed out that citizens pay money to have the services of law enforcement agencies and thus have a right to information from law enforcement agencies. Cowan ensured full cooperation with the public and press while ensuring privacy.
Addressing the role of the sheriff's office in helping reduce crime in the cities in Newton County, NCSO Lt. Bill Watterson pointed out a lot of information does not get passed between municipal agencies and the county. He said he felt the most important thing was to keep up the communication between departments and that networking could help curb a lot of crime.
There were a variety of responses to the issue of illegal immigration and policies the sheriff's office should pursue.
Hightower said she was against profiling of any race and believed illegal immigration could be targeted without profiling and with assistance at the federal level. Watterson said he believed in checking the licenses and immigration status at accidents because of the effect of illegal immigrants who didn't have insurance. Cotton said law enforcement should be able to check the status of suspected immigrants when they came into custody. Brown and Cowan said they would ensure deputies knew the laws around immigration and enforced them.
Organized by Rich Simpson, host of the local cable show the Chat Room, and moderated by columnist Nat Harwell, the forum was taped for broadcast on Charter cable channel 20 to allow Newton County residents who weren't able to attend the live forum or Tuesday's Newton County Voter's League forum access to the candidate's responses.
Although responses were at times cut off by the time limit, several of the candidates already seemed more comfortable speaking in a forum format than at past forums.
Clips of the candidates and their responses will also be available to view online at www.covnews.com under "Multimedia."
Robby Byrd and Michelle Kim contributed to this article.