With less than a month to go before the Nov. 4 election, sheriff candidates Lt. Ezell Brown and Lt. Bill Watterson are ready to go toe to toe to win over the voters in Newton County.
With the economy in the state it is in and all departments, from the Board of Education to the Sheriff’s Office facing state cuts across the board, Brown and Watterson were asked what they would do to combat this in their department and still provide quality service throughout the county.
"As sheriff I would build upon relationships formed over the last 35 years and reach out to local law enforcement and human service agencies to ensure that we maximize resources," Brown said, "Recognizing that all departments have to tighten their belts in today’s economy, collaboration is the only way to move forward. Additionally, I would submit a realistic budget for consideration and identify outside funding sources to support departmental activities."
According to Watterson he expects there will be a shortfall of tax revenues collected this year, which will directly fund the 2009-2010 budgets.
"There is no one that can tell what the long term effect on the revenues will be," Watterson said. "I would plan for the worst and hope for the best. I will keep the day-to-day mission of the sheriff’s office unaffected at all costs."
Both men decided to run for the position in an effort to make a difference in the county. Brown said his decision was based on witnessing police officers use excessive force against an elderly woman when he was a child and vowing that he would one day become an officer the public could look up to. For Watterson, his deep roots in the county – having grown up here – have caused him to want to make a positive impact in the lives of the residents.
As the community changes from day to day, so do the needs of the people. Brown believes key issues for residents in the next few years will be what he calls "the big three" drugs, sex and violence because he believes at least one of those three things are at the core of every incident officers are called to investigate on a daily basis.
"Today’s economic conditions have increased the negative impact of crimes against person and property," he said. "I would bring together law enforcement, education, human services, recreation and other community stakeholders to raise awareness and develop alternative programming, decrease idle time for youth and increase protective factors for the aged."
Watterson believes the key issues will be domestic violence, drugs and burglaries and proposes specialized units within the NCSO to counter those areas.
"I want to develop neighborhood watch programs and become more involved in the community."
Brown believes what sets him apart from the competition is his more than 35 years of experience in law enforcement as well as his accessibility to the citizens of the county set him apart, he also believes having 16 more years of experience over Watterson gives him an edge as does his leadership and the creation of the first sex offender Web site and mapping system to be recognized statewide. Watterson’s solve rate on high-profile crimes and dedication to standing up for the citizens of the county is what he believes makes him stand out from Brown.
"If I had to choose where the next sheriff of Newton County should come from then he would be the one with vast patrol experience and the one that had fought hard to make a difference where it counted, by working homicides and other major cases," Watterson said.
Both men see different things for the future of the NCSO. Brown thinks appointing a chief deputy and placing officers in administrative positions would ensure the citizens "maximum returns on their investment." He also thinks identifying a public relations/ recruitment officer while still ensuring no current employees are displaced, would work well. Brown also said he would implement teams to address domestic violence, gangs and random acts of violence.
Watterson thinks implementing the latest technology and installing more video cameras in the patrol cars will help in the future of the NCSO to assist deputies in making solid cases.
"With the future uncertain, I want the citizens to know that we are here to protect and serve them," he said. "I believe the most important thing the sheriff’s office needs to change is to combat more aggressively the rise in residential burglaries and drug-related offences."
In order to keep officer presence in the community Brown suggests instituting monthly town hall meetings to hear first-hand knowledge of citizens’ concerns. He also believes in continuing to remain accessible throughout the community. Returning to the days of "officer friendly" where officers would be encouraged to eat lunch at the schools is also something in which Brown believes.
"It is my intention to be the people’s sheriff," said Brown, "and to touch the hands and hearts of every citizen of Newton County."
Watterson believes keeping deputies in the schools will benefit not only the NCSO but the students as well. He also wants to increase the D.A.R.E. program, look for more funding for current and future programs and continue to be involved in the community.
"I want our children and teachers to be safe while at school," he said. "An education is what they need to be concentrating on receiving and not being witness to violence."