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Candidates for Sumter County Sheriff make their cases at Kiwanis Club meeting

AMERICUS – The two candidates for Sumter County Sheriff, Chief Deputy Col. Eric Bryant, the democratic candidate, and Philip Daniel, the republican candidate, both tried to make their cases at a weekly meeting of the Americus Kiwanis Club (AKC) as to why one or the other should be elected as the next Sheriff of Sumter County to replace retired Sumter County Sheriff Pete Smith.

The meeting was held on Friday, September 4, in the dining hall of the Marshall Student Center on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University.

It was more of a forum than a debate between the two candidates. Both Bryant and Daniel each got five minutes to make their opening remarks, followed by two more five-minute slots in which each could make his case as to why he should be elected as the next sheriff of the county for the next four years.

Daniel gave his opening remarks first and began by mentioning all of the experience that he has gained in law enforcement from. Daniel stated that he started working for the Sheriff’s Office in August of 1988 as a jailor under Sumter County Sheriff Randy Howard and worked there for the Sheriff’s Office for the next 28 years until he retired as a Captain in 2016. Some of the positions he held included Deputy Sheriff (1989), Sargent and Officer in charge over Records and Communications (1995), a member of the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team and Canine Officer from 1995-1999. Daniel was also promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 1996 and served as Sumter County’s first Assistant Director of Emergency Management until 2013. Daniel also stated that in 2007, when a tornado devastated Americus and destroyed Sumter Regional Hospital, he was the only certified emergency manager in Sumter County and worked closely with both GEMA and FEMA during that time to make sure that the citizens of Sumter County were able to receive that assistance that they needed.

“As Sheriff, I will manage a very pro-active and professional law enforcement organization that is dedicated to the community’s needs,” said Daniel. “This means more crime intervention and prevention, which would lead to less crime responses.”

Daniel went on to say that his strategic plan will focus on innovative, community-oriented policies and policing strategies that will be directed towards pro-active and not reactive programs. He added that these policies and programs will include aggressive action against gangs and substance abuse that is affecting the community, as well as instituting prevention and intervention programs. Daniel also stated that he plans to initiate rehabilitation programs for those who are already incarcerated.

In addition to those measures, Daniel stated that as Sheriff, he plans to have extra patrols placed in hire crime areas to protect the law-abiding citizens living in those areas and to protect businesses as well. He also wants to form a multi-agency drug unit and neighborhood watch programs.

“You can count on me to work for you 24/7,” said Daniel. “To me, this is not just going in and showing up to earn a check. It’s about being there 24/7 when the call is needed.” In short, Daniel emphasized to the group that as Sheriff, he plans to be pro-active and not just showing up after a crime has already been committed.

Daniel further added that if elected, he plans to follow through on a responsibility to make a difference to every person in the community. “The time is now to develop a level of service that is second to none, providing special assistance for two of our most precious resources: our youth and senior citizens,” said Daniel. “Being a parent and grandparent myself, I am reminded daily of the dangers and pitfalls facing our children, such as drugs, gangs and other criminal activities. After a lot of praying and talking with family and friends, I believe with all my heart, with the help of you, we can make this a community we’ll be proud of.”

Philip Daniel, the republican candidate for Sumter County Sheriff, makes his case before the Americus Kiwanis Club for why he should be elected to be the Sheriff of Sumter County.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

After Daniel finished his first round of remarks, it was Col. Eric Bryant’s turn. Bryant, who currently serves as Chief Deputy of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), began by mentioning his past experience and qualifications. Bryant mentioned that he started working in the SCSO in 1995 as a Deputy Sheriff and that Daniel was one of his training supervisors when he started. Before he became Deputy Sheriff, Bryant was a detention officer in the SCSO before he was promoted to Deputy Sheriff. For Bryant, being in law enforcement was a life-long dream of his.

In 1996, Bryant briefly left law enforcement and became a Peace Officer working for the transportation department of the Sumter County School System. Bryant stated that it was in this capacity that he gained experience in supervising people, as well as managing a budget that was a little under $3 million and supervising 45 bus drivers who were transporting over 5,000 students. “That by itself was enough training and experience to prepare me for continuing to get back into law enforcement and wanting to pursue a career as your Sheriff,” said Bryant.

Bryant went on to say that in 2005, he was appointed by Sheriff Pete Smith to be his Chief Deputy and has since served in that position up until now. “During that time frame, it has given me an opportunity to become well versed in several different training hours, certifications, primarily in Human Resources, and also being able to manage now a larger budget, though under $6 million, as well as managing over 100 employees, a 250-bed jail and, of course, over 300 square miles of Sumter County” said Bryant.

He added that another reason why he should be elected as Sheriff is that he has had 15 years of on-the-job training. “With that being said, being up to date on laws, changes, procedures and policies, not only to maintain an adequate jail facility and a law-abiding facility, but providing public safety to those here in our community.”

Bryant went on to say that he plans to be a Sheriff that is available to the community and one that will respond to the needs of all. He also stated that as Sheriff, he will enhance the programs that are already in place and will be more proactive rather than reactive to different things that take place in the community.

Col. Eric Bryant, Chief Deputy of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office,   makes his case before the Americus Kiwanis Club for why he should be elected as Sumter County’s next Sheriff.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Bryant also stated that as Sheriff, he would like to help maintain and strengthen a professional workforce in the county. “Law enforcement recruitment has almost become just as challenging as drug intervention because of the fact that people no longer want to work in law enforcement,” said Bryant. “However, my plans are to continue to actively recruit and encourage those to come and serve in the community where they would want their families to be and their families to remain safe.”

Bryant continued by saying that if elected Sheriff of Sumter County, he would like to continue to enhance some of the programs that are currently in place in the Sheriff’s Office, such as Drug Awareness, and Neighborhood Watch programs. He would also like to increase the manpower on the police force.

“Currently, we have a one-man unit designated to specifically investigate senior crimes and crimes against children,” said Bryant. “However, unfortunately, I guarantee you those crimes are steadily increasing so therefore, there is a need to increase the man power to ensure that those that are victimizing our children, as well as our seniors, are brought to justice.”

Bryant closed his opening remarks by adding that as Sheriff, his department would continue to work with the service partners in the community, which he has already been doing as Chief Deputy.

In his second five-minute time slot, Daniel began by stating that now is the time for a change and that he is the man to make that change. “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone and the courage to make tough decisions and the compassion to listen to the needs of others,” said Daniel. “He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”

Daniel went on to say that the citizens of Sumter County deserve a Sheriff who is knowledgeable, and trustworthy, has integrity and has high moral standards. He further added that those who serve under the Sheriff deserve the right kind of boss. “The men and women who serve under the Sheriff of Sumter County deserve a leader who will lead by example and will serve their needs as they serve and protect the citizens of Sumter County,” said Daniel. “As your Sheriff, I will be that leader. I have nearly 28 years of law enforcement and public service experience. I have worked almost every division with the Sheriff’s Office.”

Daniel continued to make his case by stating that he served under three different sheriffs from 1988-2016 and during that time, he gained valuable experience in law enforcement. Bryant also stated that as Sheriff, he plans to strengthen each division of the Sheriff’s Office by utilizing the experience and training of his officers in each division that show sectional knowledge, experience and leadership. He further stated that he plans to provide the best cross training for each employee of the SCSO so that all of the officers will have the confidence to perform their duty to a hire standard. He also added that, while he believes that some of the best instructors are in the SCSO, only the minimum training is given due to a small training budget when more training is necessary for these officers to perform their duties to the best of their abilities.

Daniel continued his remarks by talking about the importance of regaining the respect for and trust in law enforcement from the citizens of the county. “We will be seen more in the neighborhood talking to the residents, find out their concerns so that we can make them feel safe in their own neighborhood,” said Daniel. He added that many residents that he has talked to have said that they are afraid to go out and walk in their own neighborhood during the day time as well as at night because of drug dealers and criminals. “They’re saying that 13 and 14 year-old kids are walking the street during daylight carrying guns and not scared to use them,” said Daniel. “As long as we continue to be reactive, criminals will have nothing to worry about. As your Sheriff, I have a plan to change that.”

Daniel added that in order for the SCSO to be proactive instead of reactive, he will work with the surrounding local and state law enforcement authorities to create a much-needed task force to fight the drugs, gangs and crime that has taken over Sumter County. “It seems that citizens are the only ones that think Sumter County has a problem,” said Daniel. “I know we have a problem and it’s been a problem that no one seems to want to do anything about.” Daniel continued by stating that he will make this a top priority as Sheriff. In summery, Daniel’s plan is to be more proactive than reactive and to prevent crimes from taking place rather than showing up after a crime has already been committed.

During his second five-minute time slot, Col. Bryant stated that the SCSO has been able to bring the county jail into the 21st century, as far as technology is concerned. “We’ve implemented technology so that detention officers not only have the ability to monitor inmate activity, but to also be able to keep them where they need to be when they’ve been accused of a crime,” said Bryant. “We currently have more technology within the Sheriff’s Office so that we’re able to more actively and will continue to aggressively serve warrants that we have outstanding in our system. It creates for a database whereas other agencies that encounter these criminals are put into custody and taken off the streets and brought back to justice here in Sumter County.”

Bryant went on to say that if elected Sheriff, he will continue to be involved in all community activities and not wait until asked to come. He plans to be involved in the community and to hear and listen to the concerns of the citizens. Bryant further added that it is important as a Sheriff not only to lead, but also be willing to stand beside the men and women that serve the community on a daily basis.

If elected Sheriff, Bryant said that he plans to strengthen the relationships with the county’s government so that the SCSO can continue to maintain an open and transparent relationship so that not only county government officials, but the citizens of Sumter County can know what the Sheriff’s Office is doing.

Bryant added that if elected Sheriff, he will lead the SCSO into not only strengthening relationships with the county’s governing body, but also with the governing bodies of the various municipalities in Sumter County as well.

Bryant continued by stating that the SCSO works hard to establish and strengthen relationships with the community. Examples that he gave included the utilization of the DARE Program, as well as a school resource-based police program in which six officers are assigned to work with the young people. “What that does is it gives not only the entire operations an ear and also a set of eyes and an open ear for officers to get information that maybe beneficial in making sure that we get the bad guys where they need to be and off the street,” said Bryant. “We want our community to be safe and as your next Sheriff, being involved and making sure that those programs are active and still going will be the way to make sure that we have a safe community.”

Originally, a question and answer session was not planned for the forum, but Daniel wanted to take questions from the audience. Therefore, he, along with Col. Bryant, were allowed to field questions. Herschel Smith, the moderator of the forum, asked Daniel what his number one priority will be if and when he takes office. Daniel replied that his number one priority is to improve the morale of law enforcement in the SCSO and bring it, in his words, back together under one roof.

“We have so much split out there,” said Daniel. “Some of them are trying to do this. Some of them are trying to do that. Some of them are trying to do the good thing, but they can’t do it. Besides that, my biggest thing is the drugs, the gangs and the crime.” Daniel added that he wants to put together a drug task force to try and eliminate that problem in the county. “I think that Sumter County needs that bad. The drugs are not being worked like they should be,” said Daniel. “It’s just not in certain neighborhoods. It’s all over Sumter County…middle class, upper class, lower class, it’s everywhere.” Daniel added that so many kids throughout the county are getting hooked on illegal drugs and can’t get off. Daniel added that in order to tackle the county’s drug problem, the morale of the SCSO has to be built up and improved.

Daniel also fielded a question about body cameras for all police officers. Daniel replied that he is all in favor of mandating that all police officers wear body cameras.

“You’re going to have people that will come in and it’s going to be their word against he officer’s word, but when you have video, I mean, you can’t dispute the video.”

Another person asked Daniel that if the economy was doing well, did he feel that it was ok for government agencies, such as the Sheriff’s Office, to ask for more money to be put in their budget, but if the economy was doing badly, should government agencies ask for less money. Daniel replied that there are ways to mange the budget to where an agency won’t have to ask for more or less money. “When you have a captain and a major running the same department, you don’t need two of those running the same department. One should be able to run that department just fine,” said Daniel. “When you had three of those running like that, you were looking at over $250,000.00 a year combined. That money could have gone to raises for your deputies, sergeants and below that are making $11 to $12 an hour.”

Col. Bryant stated that one of the top priorities that he would focus on if elected as Sheriff would be to get the staff up to 100 percent. “We have been working closely already with our governmental entity and we have increased our starting salaries for deputies so that it actually is a little bit more attractive than it has been in years past,” said Bryant. “However, there is still work to be done as it relates to being able to attract and retain qualified help.” Bryant went on to say that one of the things to keep in mind is that not every man and woman working in the SCSO needs to walk around with a badge and a gun. “We don’t want to just fill slots. We want qualified, well-trained men and women to serve and protect here in our community, so that would be one of the first priorities.”

After the forum was over, the Americus Times-Recorder asked Daniel what is the main thing that makes him different from his opponent. Daniel replied that he will be more proactive and that he plans to have a proactive law enforcement agency if elected as Sheriff. “I’m not going to wait for crimes to happen,” said Daniel. “We’re going to go into these neighborhoods even if we have to go on foot and walk. “When is the last time you heard of a drug bust? It’s been a while. That’s another thing. A lot of people don’t want to recognize that there are gangs and drugs going in, but there is. The drug dealers, they don’t have anything to worry about right now because nothing is being done to them.”

Col. Bryant was asked the same question: What is the main thing that makes you different from your opponent? Bryant replied that the biggest difference would be on-the job experience and up to date training with policies, procedures and laws. In other words, Col. Bryant believes that he has more of the experience that is needed to run an effective, liability-free organization. “One of the things about law enforcement that changes so much is that it is important that you stay involved on a daily basis versus getting out and then trying to come in and get started and that’s my biggest advantage I would have over my opponent.”