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Sheriffs candidates discuss crime prevention, employee retention at forum
I-Sheriffs forum group pic
Candidates for Dawson County Sheriff were the guest speakers at the Dawson County Chamber of Commerces monthly luncheon last week. Pictured, from left, are Jeff Johnson, Jeff Perry, Frank Sosebee and Tony Wooten. - photo by Michele Hester Dawson County News

Candidates running to be Dawson County's next sheriff answered questions on crime prevention and deputy retention during a political forum held last week by the local chamber of commerce.

Jeff Johnson, commander of the Dawson County jail; Jeff Perry, a retired parole chief; Frank Sosebee, chief of security at the Hall County Correctional Institution; and Tony Wooten, captain of the county's community policing program and sheriff's office spokesman, did not see the questions before the forum held March 17 during the chamber's monthly lunch meeting.

All are running as Republicans in their race to succeed Sheriff Billy Carlisle, who is not seeking a sixth term. Election Day is May 24.

The candidates also outlined their experience and addressed challenges the department is facing, which will be featured in next week's edition of the Dawson County News.

Dawson County has been the retail hub of our region with thousands of non-residents passing through and shopping in our county every day. What steps do you intend to take in order to protect existing and developing businesses?

Jeff Johnson
"We have limited resources in Dawson County. We have limited staffing. We're having a massive growth of business coming into our county. We have to put some responsibility on our businesses. It's not fair to allocate all of our resources just to responding to thefts of that nature. I think we need to implement a program that's basically a community policing program designed toward our business districts. That's where we work in partnership with our business districts. We'll invite our businesses to come. We'll invite our loss prevention to come in as a group and we will communicate on a daily basis. We need to bring our businesses together. We need to get them on board. We need to make sure we are providing them with the tools and training where they can hopefully prevent some of these things. We're seeing massive growth coming and we have to be proactive and take steps to prevent the crime."

Jeff Perry
"That is a high priority on my list. When a business comes into the community, they want to be able to feel safe. When people come here, they want to be able to feel safe. One of the things I want to do is called DDACTS, a data driven approach to crime and traffic safety. You use the data ... shows you where your traffic accidents are, shows you where your most crime is at, and that's where you commit your resources to. The old days of doing the things like we've always done just doesn't get it anymore. Work smarter instead of harder. Another thing is to continue relationships with state and federal law enforcement agencies. Those are resources we can bring in who will be glad to come in. Over my career, I've worked with both and multiple taskforces and I know GSP will be able to come in and provide service here in Dawson County."

Frank Sosebee
"The outlet mall itself is going to look like the Avenues with this building right beside John Megel. It's going to be huge. We're not ready for that here in this county ... by no means. At the outlets out there, what I've looked at ... is assigning an investigator out there and also patrol cars will come in and out and there will be visibility there for people to see us in and out of the community. And it will deter crime. The outlet mall here is prime target for crime. So as the crime comes into this county, we need to be prepared for it. We're not prepared for it right now. We need to boost up patrol. We need to look at additional resources, through federal and state ... and hopefully we can bring in some kind of program to delete any opportunities for these folks to come here to cause crime."

Tony Wooten
"One of the biggest plans that I want to do is bring in some officers that we have. I'm not asking for additional funding. If we get it, that's great. I'll work with the commissioners to do whatever we need to do to help the citizens, but I'm going to take the 108 positions we have now, move some administration positions around and create a group that's going to go out and target that 400 area. We do have a problem on 400. That's our biggest influx of people. We have a problem at the outlet mall. We have a problem at Walmart, and they usually occur around lunch. So I'm going to put together a taskforce of deputies here in Dawson County. They are very experienced. They are going to go over to that area and they're going to stop the crime. We've done it before when I was there, and we'll do it again."

Working within the parameters of the current sheriff's budget, what is your plan to recruit and retain quality officers and staff?

Jeff Johnson
"We need to make use of all available resources. We are losing officers to other agencies ... to the private sector. We have to lead by example. We have to get our officers to buy into what we're doing. We have to get them committed again to our public service commitment. I believe we need a program in the high school. We need to have a police explorer program. We need to get them encouraged. We need to be making all available use of that resource tool. If I could bring someone in with 20-30 years of experience that's retired from another agency, that's an investment you don't have to pay for. We don't have to send them to the academy. We can put them in positions from day one and be a mentor."

Jeff Perry
"When I worked for the state, I had the lowest turnover rate in the state. That was 2008 - 2015 when the economy went bad. I work with Dr. Jennifer Allen, who's the head of criminal justice at the University of North Georgia. We plan to start an internship program here where we can get students in here that are interested in the law enforcement, criminal justice background and also where they come in here and we can try them for free through an internship, and if we like them, we can offer them a job. Another thing is to work with the school system in order to start a public safety technical portion of the school system. We plan to utilize FBI national academy as a recruitment tool."

Frank Sosebee
"The national school of corrections is free training. All we have to do is put them on a plane, fly them out and they go to this training in Colorado that I attended for 10 months. It's some of the top training that's offered by the federal government in the United States. These officers can go here for advanced training in criminal justice, in traffic. It's a great tool for us here in Dawson County. Lanier Tech ... Reinhardt College...these are areas we can recruit these young men and women to come in here. They're going to be leaving if we don't do something with them. We've lost 88 or 89 employees. A lot of these employees I'd love to offer a job to get them back."

Tony Wooten
"Retention is a complex issue. One of the problems that we've got is one of the guys we lost ... that I'm trying to get back if I win this election, left because he had training, and he went to a private job that pays a lot of money. It's a problem every department has. We need to be competitive with other places. Most people don't run from jobs. They run from bad bosses. We've got guys that are getting amazing training. They're going to go to work for insurance agencies and IT places. We lost one that's ... making three times what an officer makes. That's going to be tough for anyone who's sheriff. We have to offer them an environment that they want to be in."