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Meet the candidates for Fulton County sheriff

11/7/2016
 

Meet the candidates for Fulton County sheriff

  • Ross
    Williams

Fulton County Sheriff Theodore "Ted" Jackson, a Democrat, will attempt to keep his spot as the county's top cop
from Republican challenger Ben Cowart during the Nov. 8 general
election.

Jackson defeated Richard Lankford in the primary
runoff election July 26 after the two candidates were the top
vote-getters in the five-person Democratic primary May 24. Cowart
beat Shurron Green in the May 24 primary.

The winner of next month's election will be
responsible for keeping the peace in Fulton, as well as overseeing
the county's jail cells and courtrooms.

Jackson began working for the FBI in 1971 and would
remain with the bureau for 32 years. He served in several leadership
positions including deputy assistant director of the criminal
investigative division and special agent in charge of the FBI's Atlanta
office.

He served as interim Fulton sheriff from July 2004 to
December of that year. He was elected as sheriff in 2008 and
reelected four years later. Jackson said voters should keep him in
charge because of his record of accomplishments.

 

"When I first decided to run, I made several promises that have been completed," he said. "The main one
was working with the jail to make it in compliance with the federal
consent decree."

Jackson referred to an order from the federal
government requiring the county to fix problems including
overcrowding, understaffing and dangerous conditions in the Fulton
County Jail. The decree lasted from 2006 to 2015. Jackson said the
jail has become safer during his tenure, and he also touted
rehabilitation programs including GED classes, culinary training and
a program in which inmates train dogs for adoption.

"We're helping inmates develop skills and education that end the cycle of the revolving door," he said.

Jackson said he has increased courthouse safety and
fostered cooperation with other law enforcement departments to help
catch criminals who escape to areas around the Southeast.

He said he still has work to do, especially in the
jail. He said he plans to work with the county to decrease backlogs
of inmates awaiting trial, some of whom stay in the jail for over a
year. He said about 40 percent of prisoners have mental health issues
and he wants to do more to give them help.

Jackson said much of the work he wants to accomplish
is behind the scenes, which he said is a good thing.

"(Residents say) they don't see anything about us; they don't hear anything about us," he said. "To me, it's a compliment. Negative news sells; positive news you don't hear about. So I would say Fulton County has a sheriff's office they ought to be proud of."

Ben Cowart is a lifetime resident of metro Atlanta.

He joined the Fulton County Sheriff's Department as a reserve officer in the early '90s and later went on to serve in
Gwinnett County, Lawrenceville and Norcross.

 

"Think of reserve duty along the lines of a volunteer fire department, but with law enforcement," Cowart said. "We receive the same training but reserve officers serve one
or two shifts per month and are on call as needed. For this they
receive no pay and for the most part cover their own expenses for
uniforms, firearms, ammunition, etc. It's all volunteer work and it saves the taxpayer money."

Cowart said if elected, he will expand the Fulton Sheriff's Reserve with a goal of saving taxpayers more money.

Saving money and cutting red tape are two of Cowart's
top priorities, and he said dealing with county and city governments
as a businessman have prepared him for that task.

"I will work to modernize our procedures and increase efficiency and innovation," he said. "This is not
something that you learn in school or by working for Washington. In
fact, working in a bureaucratic environment does more harm than good
in my book. It tends to reward laziness and discourage
innovation."

Cowart said one plan to cut red tape involves reducing
the prison backlog by efficiently processing and releasing offenders
who have bonded out and looking for alternatives to incarceration for
non-violent offenders.

He said he has plans to reallocate staff to higher
priority jobs and encourage cross-training and multitasking for
deputies to help deal with understaffing.

Cowart said his biggest issue with the current administration lies with Jackson's command staff.

"They do not know how to build a team or lead other than using threats and intimidation," he said. "The
public would never know this but the employees know it all too
well."

Cowart said he named most of his command staff over a year ago and recently signed on Jackson's primary opponent, Richard
Lankford, as his chief deputy. He said he will enlist his staff from
within the department and plans to build morale by providing more
opportunities for employees to advance.