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Five questions and answers from the Dawson County Sheriff candidate forum
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A crowd of about 100 packed the Gordon Pirkle room of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame on Monday night, waiting to hear from the three candidates running for election as Dawson County Sheriff. - photo by Alexander Popp

On Monday night, three candidates running for election as the next Dawson County Sheriff met at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame and spoke to a large crowd of local residents about why they deserved Dawson County's vote in the upcoming election.

During the event, incumbent Jeff Johnson, and candidates Jeff Perry and Marcus Sewell took turns answering a variety of different questions concerning the field of law enforcement and the office of sheriff, stressing their different backgrounds and levels of experience, and views on local issues as an appeal to potential voters. 

Here are the five questions asked of the candidates and how they responded:

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From left, candidate Jeff Perry, Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson and candidate Marcus Sewell. Candidates spoke to community members at a forum held on Monday, March 9. - photo by Alexander Popp

Question 1: What is the key issue facing the sheriff's office and how do you plan to address it?

Jeff Perry: Opening the forum, Perry said that growth and how the county handles it will be one of the biggest challenges in the coming years.

“How are we going to put more officers on the street at less cost to you," he said. "The one thing I want to do is have an auxiliary police force, made up of volunteers in the community … We send you to training, you work just side to side a police officer, a deputy and you wear the same uniform ... That puts more people on the street at no cost to the taxpayers." 

Marcus Sewell: Coming from the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office, Sewell said he sees the Dawson County Sheriff's Office as having much a bigger budget, with more expenses and expenditures than are truly needed. If elected, he said the budget would be one of his main priorities.

"What I would do with that is make sure you come through positions that the county already has," he continued. "They already do (human resources), already do purchasing. So, if you go back to the county and work with the county. I can have more deputies on the street." 

Jeff Johnson: Calling on one of his deputies to stand and be recognized, Johnson said that retention of qualified officers and remaining competitive with surrounding counties would be his priority if elected to a second term in office.  

"You asked me what my priorities are, the men and women serving our county and serving our people are my priority," Johnson said. "And the reason they are my priority, is because I know that if I, as your elected sheriff, take care of our men and women, our men and women are going to take care of you." 

Question 2: It's very important that government entities work very closely with the sheriff's office. What's your plan to accomplish that? 

Marcus Sewell: Sewell said that he sees an opportunity to lower incarceration rates in the county and get people the help they need, by communicating within the system for programs like drug court. 

"One of the plans I want to work with to make sure that we can hopefully lower people coming into the jail, is making sure we are working with the superior court judge to make sure that people get into drug court that need to be in drug court," he said. "I'm not after just the users, I want to make sure the drug users are getting help. I'm after the big dealers that are coming into the county to ruin this county."  

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Marcus Sewell - photo by Alexander Popp

Jeff Johnson: Responding to comments made by Sewell concerning a lawsuit filed he against Dawson County early during his term as sheriff, Johnson made the case that although he has had his differences with different groups within the county, his actions were always about keeping people safe.  
"I got elected to serve this county, to serve the people of Dawson County and that's exactly what I'm doing," Johnson said. "Now will there be friction? Sure, there will be friction. But I think at the end of the day we continue to talk; we continue to discuss and we continue to provide the facts and figures to show that we have a county in need." 

Jeff Perry: To answer the question, Perry touted his experience working with other local, state and federal agencies during his time 27 years in law enforcement. That experience, Perry said, gave him an understanding of the balance of leadership and how different organizations, both law enforcement and non-law enforcement, must work together to keep a community say. 

"I bring that ability to you because I've done it," he said. "I've worked with different agencies; I've worked with different judges. I was in two different judicial circuits ... you have to be able to collaborate and cooperate."  

Question 3: How do you plan to keep Georgia counties safe? 

Jeff Johnson: Walking the crowd through a list of different initiatives reportedly implemented since he took office, Johnson pointed to classes and programs like recent firearms training's, women's self-defense classes and the Citizens Law Enforcement Academy as major steps towards empowering local citizens and making the community safer. 

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Jeff Perry - photo by Alexander Popp

"We know that we're small, and we know that even if we had the whole staffing study figures, we'd still be small by today's standards," he said. "However, if we can take what we know and what we've been taught, what we've been trained, and share it with our community, that's a success." 
Jeff Perry:
Pointing back to his previous comments from the first question, Perry said that putting additional boots on the ground in the Dawson County community, focusing on "Problem-Oriented Policing" and involving the sheriff's office in a dedicated narcotics task force, are methods he would use to make the community safer. 

Marcus Sewell: Like Johnson, Sewell said that he believes that one of the best ways to keep a community safe is by empowering citizens to protect themselves. 

"I'd like to work with the commissioners to try and get a gun range in Dawson County, so our citizens can go any time to use the gun range," he said. 

Question 4: What is your position on the Second Amendment? 

All three candidates unanimously voiced their support for the second amendment, stressing their support for gun ownership, the National Rifle Association, and the use of firearms for hunting, home and personal protection. 

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Throughout the forum, candidates running for Dawson County sheriff were given three minutes to answer a variety of different law enforcement questions which were previously suggested by members of the public. - photo by Alexander Popp

Question 5: In your opinion, what is the most important skill a Dawson County Sheriff should have?

Marcus Sewell:
Being a "servant leader" is what Sewell said was the most important skill for a potential sheriff to possess.

"You must know how to serve the people, the citizens inside the county and the employees of the sheriff's office," he said. "A true leader can serve people. They serve who they work for, which is the people, but they also serve their employees that work with them, side by side."  

Jeff Johnson: Accountability is the trait that Johnson said defines a leader in law enforcement. 

"We've got to make sure that I am accountable to you," he said motioning out towards the crowd. 

 Jeff Perry: According to Perry, communication and the ability to listen, were the traits that he considers most important in a good leader. 

"I think what served me most in my 18 years as a chief, and you don't stay 18 years as a chief by screwing up, was being a good listener," Perry said.