Primary voters in the county will have a range of qualified sheriff's candidates to choose from come July 15. The four candidates running for the Republican ticket have a combined 79 years of law enforcement experience between them, and many have served the county for significant portion of their lives.
Each of the candidates took time from their busy schedules to describe their platforms and talk about how they would propose to address various issues in the county.
The 38-year-old father of six has 18 years of experience as a deputy with the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office and is currently a sergeant and jail shift supervisor.
Though he is the only candidate that hasn't worked for a Newton County law enforcement agency, he said that would be an advantage because he has no political or business ties to the community that would get in the way of impartially and neutrally running the sheriff's office.
In tackling the problem of drugs in the county, he broke it down to detection and intervention. To strengthen detection, he said he would empower citizens to "step up and stand united to face these drug dealers and run them out." To improve intervention, he would have dedicated officers that were highly trained in handling drug cases to make sure the cases would hold up in court.
He was emphatic that a key part of addressing juvenile crime was putting "parenting back in the home." He proposed working with programs such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs to divert children's attention into more productive activities.
Cowan proposed putting more officers on the streets and advocated stiffer judicial action against offenders to address violent crime.
"I assure you that each and every tax dollar that is entrusted to me will be spent to maximize its benefit to the office and the citizens' needs," he wrote. "I will streamline spending and work hard with the commissioners to put more officers on the streets."
Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton, a 21-year veteran with the CPD, said he would make the best choice for Sheriff because is he has the experience of successfully running a metropolitan law enforcement agency.
"I have prepared both through my career as a police officer, Chief of Police and through my college education to take this next step as the leader of this sheriff's office," he wrote. "I have a vision for both today and tomorrow. I have the ability to see what the issues are today... and develop plans to deal with them successfully."
Other key issues of his platform include reducing response times for deputies to calls of service and addressing juvenile gangs. To improve call response efficiency, he proposed studying traffic patterns along with calls for service to determine how to best deploy deputies.
For juvenile gangs, Cotton advocates fully investigating and prosecuting any criminal activity associated with gangs under the recently passed "gang activity" laws.
To address juvenile crime in general, he would work with the county juvenile court system and schools to focus on truancy and keeping kids in school.
For violent crime, he proposed aggressively enforcing drug trafficking laws and maintaining a unit equipped and manned to do undercover operations and investigations and requiring training for all deputies in recognizing and dealing with domestic violence issues.
He cited the formation of the Covington Newton County Special Investigations Unit as key in continuing the fight against drugs and increasing the manpower and scope of its intra-agency investigations.
Capt. Marty Roberts has worked in just about every division in the Newton County Sheriff's Office and said he's seen all aspects of the role a sheriff might face.
"I know the hardships of it. I've had contact with the citizens. I've seen the victim's side of it. I've done the investigations," he said.
As jail manager for the last 2 and a half years, he's also dealt with the budgetary juggling required in any executive position.
"I think I've got a good grasp on what it takes on both sides," he said. "A lot of people forget about the jail side." He pointed out one of the things the new sheriff will likely face is the building of a new addition onto the jail, which sees on average about 550 of its 600 beds occupied.
To address the drug problem in Newton County, Roberts said he would look into starting again a multi-jurisdictional task force, along the lines of the recently disbanded East Metro Drug Task Force, and also proposed having a concentrated patrol effort for certain key neighborhoods and trouble spots.
For juvenile crime rates, Roberts proposed a program, along the lines of the DARE program, but for high school aged students instead of middle school and elementary school aged students.
"It seems that's the age group we deal with most of the time. I want to see about getting back in touch with those," he said.
To address violent crime, Roberts said he would draw on the experience of larger agencies and other counties that had also gone through tremendous growth on how they handled their violent crimes.
Lt. Bill Watterson, a 17-year veteran of the NCSO, currently works in the field for the Criminal Investigations Division but said he's also worked in every division of the department, giving him a deeper understanding of the sheriff's office.
"I have first hand knowledge of how each works most successfully," he wrote. "If elected, I would not disrupt the operations abruptly as an outsider might do. Rather, I would continue the sheriff's office with professionalism, dedication, and efficiency as the citizens of this county deserve."
Watterson observed about half of the violent crimes in the county were related to drugs and the other half to domestic violence. He proposed forming an increased narcotics unit to deal with drug-related crimes and another unit to deal with domestic violence related crimes. He also proposed bringing federal funding back to the county for a narcotics unit, to relieve the burden off of county tax-payers.
To improve and maintain communications and relations with the community, Watterson said he would increase the number of Neighborhood Watch programs and would continue to make himself accessible with the open door policy and work to maintain the rapport he has with county leaders, commissioners and the school system.
Other issues he'd address as sheriff include the rise of hybrid-gangs, or juveniles that emulate gangs and commit crimes, with continued support the NCSO gang task force and by maintaining the current gang database linked with other metro agencies.
He said he'd also continue to work with sheriffs from surrounding counties to combat gang, drug and other issues as they arise.
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