Catoosa County debates law enforcement goals

Catoosa County debates law enforcement goals

August 14th, 2012 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

Gary Sisk

Photo by Alyson Wright/Times Free Press.

Candidates for the highly contested sheriff's seat in Catoosa County, Ga., debated their differing views on how to protect the community and prevent crime at Monday night's debate.

Former Lookout Mountain Drug Task Force commander Larry Black said he wants tougher enforcement on property crimes and more focus on enforcing drug laws.

"We have to do more in the area of drug enforcement," Black said. "We have kids that are dying."

Maj. Gary Sisk said better policing comes from getting the community involved by starting a community-policing group and by focusing more resources on keeping teens and nonviolent drug offenders out of jail.

"I'm more about trying to resolve the problem and not just put them in jail," Sisk said. "That doesn't mean I'm not tough on crime."

At the debate hosted by the local Republican Party, the two candidates who will be on the runoff election ballot on Aug. 21 were each asked to answer questions prepared by the party and audience members. The crowd of about 100 residents squeezed into the room and more than half the audience stood against the wall.

Black and Sisk were asked a range of questions from how they would manage the sheriff's office $8 million budget to how they would prevent drug problems in the community.

Sisk, who has worked at the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office for 22 years and now holds the chief deputy spot, criticized Black's plans to double the sheriff's narcotics unit and build a substation on the west side of the county. He questioned how Black could pay for those expensive projects and whether the substation would take manpower off the streets.

"Officers belong out there in the car serving you," Sisk said.

But Black didn't answer and instead ignored the criticism explaining that he ran a positive campaign.

"We are going to stay professional because I take a lot of pride in law enforcement," he told the crowd.

Earlier in the debate, Black argued that rehabilitation for inmates wasn't the answer -- the platform Sisk has been debating throughout his campaign.

"I don't feel like it's the sheriff's role," Black said. "We get paid to go out and protect you."

Sisk later shot back that more community rehabilitation programs was one of the answers for crime prevention and that teens needed a role model and encouragement from the community.

"It's not some one else's problem. It's our communities problem," he said.

Both toted their experience as a selling point -- Black with experience at multiple agencies across North Georgia, and Sisk working his way up at the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office as his only law enforcement job.

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