RINGGOLD, Ga. — In one corner of the battle for Catoosa County sheriff stands the incumbent: tough on crime, tough on criminals, compassionate for the common man.
And in the other corner stands the challenger: tough on crime, tough on criminals, compassionate for the common man.
Sheriff Gary Sisk and Ben Scott fielded questions from the public during a town hall forum Monday night, sponsored by the Catoosa County Republican Party. And while the men tout different real-world experiences, they held similar positions on hot-button law enforcement issues.
Sisk presented himself as the Catoosa County lifer, with 25 years of experience working for the local agency. He started from the bottom — working as a jail officer — and now he's here. He's been the sheriff for four years.
Scott, meanwhile, is the outsider who moved into town. He carries a resume that includes seven years working for the Chattanooga Police Department and another 25 years with the Drug Enforcement Administration, working in St. Louis and New Orleans before ending his career as special agent in charge of the Chattanooga office.
The two men faced each other (as well as three other candidates) in the 2012 primary. Scott received the least amount of traction, gaining just 4.6 percent of the vote. Sisk got the second-most votes with 22.4 percent, and he later won the seat in a run-off.
Scott said he wants to bring more transparency to the sheriff's office by holding frequent town hall meetings. Sisk said there is already plenty of transparency. He posts information about arrests and wanted suspects on Facebook, he offers citizen academies to people who want to learn about law enforcement, and he hosts a weekly call-in show on UCTV, he said.
Beyond this dispute, however, the two candidates both touted moderate stances on the law enforcement issues that have grabbed headlines in recent years.
On cannabis oil
Sisk: "I'm not against medical treatment for our young people. [But] where is the medical community standing up, saying this is such a great thing? Right now, all your hydrocodones and things like that, they come from illegal drugs. And yet they've gone through the same manufacturing process and the same FDA approval as they needed to."
Scott: "There is a mish-mash of studies throughout the United States. Some in California. Some in Michigan. Every study that you find that says it works, there's another study that says it may not."
On no-knock search warrants
Sisk: "There is a time and place for no-knock warrants for the safety of the officers and individuals that are going in the home. But I do think [the warrant] needs to be presented before a judge."
Scott: "No-knock warrants should always be the exception and never the rule — period. When you do use it, you should be able to convince a judge that you actually need it."
On civil asset forfeiture
Sisk: "It's a tough situation. But I do agree that all civil asset forfeitures ought to continue through the criminal process."
Scott: "Forfeiture of drug assets is one of the best things and worst things that happened in law enforcement. A lot of departments depend on that money to keep their operations going. They depend on that money to buy things, buy toys, buy equipment, buy whatever they need that they can't get money from the budget."
On gangs coming in from Chattanooga
Sisk: (Who has two officers specializing in gang-related crime who have met with Chattanooga police) "My message to [gang members] has always been: Get out of it, or you're going to see us every day."
Scott: "We have to be relentless on making sure we know who they are, where they are and their methods of operation."
On whether he would let the federal government take residents' guns
Sisk: "Over my cold, dead hands."
Scott: "I will lose my life over it if I have to. But I hope I have a lot of people, a lot of citizens, standing with me to make sure we have something in place that that never happens in this country."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6476.