RINGGOLD, Ga. — Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers won’t have to worry about political fundraisers and putting out campaign signs this year. He is unopposed in the primary and general elections.
It’s the third time he has been unopposed in his 18-year career as sheriff.
Sheriff Summers said he is thankful that he can instead spend time on priorities, such as working with the County Commission to boost employees’ pay. He is also part of a regional effort to link the emergency communication systems of Walker, Dade and Catoosa counties with Chattanooga.
The sheriff recently spoke with the Chattanooga Times Free Press about his next four-year term.
Q: What does being unopposed in this election mean to you?
A: It was a blessing, and I’m very thankful that I’ve had the opportunity not only this time, but in previous years, to run unopposed. It enables me to continue providing service to the citizens of Catoosa County, focus on my job and not worry about a campaign getting in the way.
I have a strong belief in courteous, professional law enforcement ... It’s a team effort. If you are not doing a good job, or if you are not providing good service, the sheriff’s job is always a heated, contested election. It gives me a good feeling knowing the employees have worked hard and have been successful in being a part of me running unopposed this time.
Q: What are the goals for your next term?
A: One of our priorities is improving the new 800 MHz radio system. The $5.77 million (federal Homeland Security) grant has been approved.
We’ve learned from experience that in Northwest Georgia in an emergency situation, we depend on our neighbors in Chattanooga. (This radio system) erases that boundary line between Tennessee and Georgia, and if there is an emergency, those emergency responders can come anywhere in the local area and we will all be on the same communication system.
One of the other focuses I have for this year is a recent salary survey that we have conducted. We focused on counties in Northwest Georgia, and then counties similar in size and number of employees in all of Georgia. ...
I am now able to move forward with that in this budget period and approach the (county) commissioners and talk to them about improving the salaries for the law enforcement personnel in Catoosa County.
Q: How is the funding for your department?
A: I was very pleased to find that we are comparable (to other areas). We weren’t below average. There were a few areas that need to be improved to be average. But what I would like to do is put a package together that Catoosa County is a little above average, which gives us something to draw employees from other agencies and from other areas of Georgia who may be interested in relocating to our local area.
Q: Have you put a price tag on that package?
A: Not yet. We are still in the process. I’m proud that it won’t be major, because we are comparable to other areas. It will be minor adjustments, but it’s adjustments we need to consider this year to improve retention of employees. The commissioners have been good to work with us.... In many cases, I’ve been able to justify the need and they have adjusted the budget accordingly.
Q: Your primary role is crime prevention. What is the state of crime in Catoosa County?
A: When originally elected, one of our major focuses was to reduce crime in Catoosa County, and we have been very successful in that. We are actually below the crime ratio we were at in 1990. We have not only reduced crime, but we have held those numbers down consistently.
Q: How have you done that?
A: Community policing programs have been a benefit. We have also had success prosecuting crimes in Catoosa County, because we have learned from experience that repeat offenders are responsible for a lot of crime. We have held a 98 percent conviction rate over the 18 years that I’ve served as sheriff on all crimes that occur in Catoosa County. Not only are we solving those cases, but we are aggressively prosecuting and convicting those individuals and taking them off the street.
Q: What are the major crime problems facing Catoosa County?
A: The No. 1 complaint that we spend about a third of our time policing is traffic problems. To give you an idea of traffic complaints, Catoosa County answered over 64,000 calls for service last year. Out of that ... 26,802 were traffic complaints. In fact, the last two elections I ran in, the No. 1 complaint was traffic. Everyone kept asking, ‘What are we going to do about all this traffic?’
Q: What have you done to address that issue?
A: We implemented a traffic enforcement unit (of six officers) that actively and aggressively operates radar in high traffic and high complaint areas to try to reduce accidents and injuries. This is the third year that we are seeing a reduction in accidents, injuries and fatalities. For eight years they continued to rise year after year, and now it has decreased over the last three years. ... We feel like that is a good earmark, considering how much the county has grown and how much our traffic has increased over the last 10 years.