By Ginny LaRoe Staff Writer
All four Hamilton County sheriff candidates challenging incumbent John Cupp said at a forum Tuesday that his department is disconnected from the community and needs more involvement in schools and neighborhoods.
"One thing I'd really like to see is better communication between the department and citizens of Hamilton County," said Democrat Hank DeArman, 60, who retired from the sheriff 's department after 25 years. "The only time they see an officer is when they get stopped."
Mr. DeArman and the other three candidates vying for Sheriff Cupp's $102,200-a-year job said they want the sheriff's department to put resource officers back in schools and to restart an alcohol and drug awareness program.
Sheriff Cupp, a Republican seeking his fourth consecutive term, said data showed the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program was not effective. He said that if he had the money resource officers never would have left the schools.
Democrat Billy Long, 53, who retired from the sheriff's office after 31 years, challenged the sheriff's lack of law enforcement experience.
"He doesn't have a clue," Mr. Long said about the sheriff being in tune with the needs of the officers in the department. "He's never been a police officer."
Andy Derryberry, who faces the sheriff in the county's May 2 GOP primary, was a chief deputy for about a year before resigning in 2003 over "managerial differences." He criticized the sheriff for chronic problems in the Hamilton County Jail, including overcrowding, outbreaks of infections and violence.
Mr. Derryberry, 47, pointed to an incident last weekend in which five inmates attacked two corrections officers in an attempt to escape.
Sheriff Cupp said the Friday incident that left two officers with scrapes and cuts was not due to overcrowding. He said the jail's decertification earlier this year was not due to conditions.
"We were not decertified because of conditions such as health and food, but because of overcrowding," Sheriff Cupp said after the forum at the Read House, which was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Chattanooga.
The candidates also said they would address employee dissatisfaction.
"They're hungry and starving for new leadership," Mr. Derryberry said.
To that, Sheriff Cupp, a former minister, responded that even "Jesus Christ couldn't please everybody."
Dave Alverson, 68, who is running as an independent, said he is the most-educated candidate with both bachelor's and master's degrees in criminal justice. He pointed to his criminal investigation background and his eight years as chief deputy under Sheriff Cupp.
Mr. Alverson said he wants to start a drug task force that would address issues specific to the county, and he wants sheriff's deputies to offer criminal justice-type education to students in the county.
E-mail Ginny LaRoe at firstname.lastname@example.org