Home invasions, emergency disasters and jail recidivism were just some of the topics tackled by Rockdale sheriff candidates in the first forum since the July primary at the Rockdale County Think Tank's Saturday meeting.
Republican and incumbent Sheriff Jeff Wigington and Democratic candidate Eric Levett, a sergeant in the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office, faced questions from the packed audience and from other candidates.
Wigington, who has been with the RCSO for 35 years is running for his fifth term for sheriff, briefly reviewed the scope and accomplishments of the RCSO, which has an $18 million budget, almost 300 employees, and 450 inmates. He pointed out the efficiency of the jail, such as being able to feed inmates a dietitian balanced meal on $3 a day, and operating two inmate labor work crews. He said the crime rate in Rockdale was lower than surrounding counties.
"This race is not about Democrat, Republican, black, white. When you call 911, we don't ask you any of those questions. We just come and do what we need to do."
Levett, who currently works in the Criminal Investigations Division and has worked for other agencies such as the Stone Mountain Park Police and Conyers Housing Authority, praised the current RCSO and sheriff but said he was running because he had looked at the county's changing demographics and needs.
He said he would address burglaries and home invasions by doing more patrols, possibly implementing more roadblocks to catch criminals coming from out of the county, and adding more resources to criminal investigations and crime scene investigations.
When asked about the RCSO's ability to handle emergency disaster situations such as the BioLab fires in 2004, Wigington replied, "We are very well prepared." He described a state-of-the-art tractor trailer mobile command center the RCSO was able to purchase after the BioLab incident with $750,000 worth of Homeland Security grants.
Wigington pointed out he was the emergency management director for the county and plugged into emergency management agencies across the state.
Levett said the key was more training. "You can almost never be too prepared."
On recidivism, Wigington said while there was not a specific program to address repeat jail occupants, he pointed out many programs were in place to help inmates rehabilitate such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, chaplain programs, parenting programs and GED teaching and administration. RCSO is the only jail in the state where the GED can be administered, said Wigington.
Levett said he would look at other jails to see what programs had worked to reduce recidivism.
On contraband, Wigington said, "Contraband is always an issue in a jail. We have found a cell phone once before, but it's not something we see often."
Audience members also asked questions about private residents getting involved to help the RCSO. Wigington described programs such as the Sheriff's Citizens Academy, which has another class starting Sept. 11, and the processing of seized drug money and assets. A video of the forum is available at edwardctracey.com.
The Rockdale-Newton League of Women Voters will hold a candidates forum for all local candidates on Tuesday, Oct. 2, at the Rockdale Auditorium, 903 Main Street, 6:30 p.m. For more information, contact Allene Eatman (678) 413-9520.