published Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Catoosa County Sheriff candidates debate crime fight

  • photo
    Mike Helton, left, and Larry Black, both candidates for Catoosa County Sheriff, exchange notes during a public debate held Tuesday at The Colonnade Center in Ringgold, Ga.
    Photo by Alyson Wright.
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Poll
Who do you support for Catoosa County Sheriff?

Five candidates vying for the top spot in Catoosa County law enforcement debated Tuesday the most effective way to curb property crime, become more active in the community and fight the drug scourge.

Ideas for prevention ranged from using Facebook and social media to encouraging officers to get out of their cars and let the public know they are listening to local concerns.

The candidates, former Lookout Mountain Drug Task Force commander Larry Black, Catoosa County City Manager Mike Helton, Fort Oglethorpe police officer Jeff Holcomb, retired federal agent Ben Scott and Chief Deputy Gary Sisk, are looking to replace retiring Sheriff Phil Summers.

At the debate, sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, candidates were asked about their plans for crime prevention, their policies and their thoughts on controversial social issues like selling alcohol on Sunday and concealed gun carry permits.

All the candidates were against Sunday alcohol sales and for concealed gun carry permits. Black, who was criticized after previous debates when he said openly carrying a gun made him nervous, stated he isn't for gun control but more responsibility.

"As sheriff I wouldn't make an attempt to take that weapon," he said.

When asked what it means to effectively community police, Helton, who also worked in law enforcement for 16 years, highlighted how authorities need to take advantage of faster communication outlets like Facebook and other social media avenues.

Scott, who retired from the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Sisk agreed community policing comes from officers in neighborhoods and interacting with the public. Sisk, whose worked at the sheriff's office for 22 years, added that he would like to initiate block parties in specific neighborhoods where residents can voice their thoughts and concerns.

"We've got to have the community involved," Sisk said.

When asked if candidates would make any changes to the department, Black said he would like to create a precinct on the west side of the county to handle the growing population.

Holcomb, who has 15 years police experience, highlighted a needed emphasis on addressing growing gang problems in the community and at schools with more bully prevention programs.

In the areas of drug prevention and targeting child predators, Holcomb took one of the harshest stance in the group, explaining that he wanted stricter sentences.

But Sisk argued there is a better way to treat nonviolent drug offenders by working closer with faith-based organizations and keeping them out of jail if possible.

Black, who's been in law enforcement for 35 years, said if elected, he would double the sheriff's office narcotics unit and increase resources to the circuit's drug task force.

All the candidates agreed the sheriff needed to have experience, leadership and integrity.

Scott and Helton highlighted their experience in multiple roles as an advantage to be sheriff, while Sisk said stability at the same department was an advantage.

Each candidate is running on the Republican ticket and the primary election is July 31.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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