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Candidates for Sumter County Sheriff square off at Chamber of Commerce Forum

AMERICUS – On Tuesday, October 6, the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum at which candidates for six different political offices tried to make their case as to why they should be elected or, in some cases, reelected to these positions. One of these positions that two candidates are competing for is that of Sumter County Sheriff. Col. Eric Bryant, the county’s Chief Deputy Sheriff, is the democratic candidate. He is running against Philip Daniel, the republican candidate. One of these two men will be the next Sheriff of Sumter County to succeed Pete Smith, who is retiring.

Each candidate submitted two questions to the moderator and both candidates each had three minutes to answer both questions. Near the end of the debate, each candidate had five minutes to explain why he should be the one to be elected as the next Sheriff of Sumter County.

Tesia Reed, news anchor for WALB News Channel 10 in Albany, was the moderator for the debate.

The first question was the one Col. Bryant submitted and he was the first one chosen to answer it.

Question: In light of what’s currently going on around the country with police relations, what policies or procedures will you put in place to ensure a trustworthy relationship with the people of Sumter County?

Bryant began his answer by stating that it is not only important to pay attention to what is going on in the community of Sumter County, but it is even more important to establish relationships with the people of the county, meaning that the county sheriff should be involved with different organizations and different groups so that those groups can express their feelings, opinions and concerns to law enforcement about what is going on and what should be done about it.

“I think being proactive in cases like that, where you establish that relationship, we’re able to ensure that we maintain safety for all citizens here in Sumter County by getting out front, getting involved in those different organizations, listening to their questions or answering whatever their concerns are so that when an issue arises or there’s a concern about how something was done, our community will have someone that they can go to and access to ask those questions without having to lead to disastrous riots and protests and things of that nature,” said Bryant.

The same question was presented to Daniel and he responded by stating that he plans to be more proactive if elected as Sumter County Sheriff and that what he sees going on right now in the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office is a more reactive policy rather than a proactive one. “It’s getting out in the community, walking in the neighborhoods, not just driving through the neighborhoods, but getting out and talking to the citizens in those neighborhoods” said Daniel. He continued by saying that police officers need to talk to the citizens in these neighborhoods, listen to their concerns and then go out and do something about those concerns.

“What you see now is you see patrol riding through the neighborhood, but nobody is getting out and talking to the citizens. That’s what they want,” said Daniel. He added that law enforcement officers need to get more involved with the schools and other organizations. “That’s all in the plan that I have laid out and will lay out again today,” said Daniel.

The next question was the one Daniel submitted and he was chosen first to give his answer to that question.

Question: What is your position on Gun Control and the Second Amendment?

“I believe that every law-abiding citizen has the right to keep and bear arms,” said Daniel. “I believe that convicted felons and those with severe mental conditions that have been deemed to be a danger to them or others should not have that right.”

Philip Daniel is running as the republican candidate for Sumter County Sheriff.
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Daniel went on to say that democrats have stated that they will pass stricter gun laws and ban certain guns and magazines and will enforce these laws. “We need to start enforcing the gun laws that we already have and taking the criminals off the street,” said Daniel. “We need to hold them accountable for their actions and stop blaming someone else. I do not believe law-abiding citizens should be punished for the actions of the criminals.” Daniel went on to read a quote from Col. Bryant that he made at a meeting of the Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC) on July 21 of this year. The quote was in reference to Sumter County becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary county. According to Daniel, Col. Bryant stated at that the BOC July meeting that he doesn’t perceive this being a problem from the federal or state level.   According to Daniel, here is what Bryant actually said:

“I think if they did act or send out a directive, I think we would have time to come back and address this Sanctuary City Statute,” said Bryant. Daniel continued by saying that this is why he plans to be a proactive sheriff and will prepare a head of time for things like this instead of being a reactive sheriff that waits for things to happen, which, in Daniel’s opinion, is what is happening now in the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. “This is another reason law-abiding citizens feel that they need their guns to protect themselves, their families and property,” said Daniel. “It doesn’t matter if you take the guns from law-abiding citizens. Criminals will always find a way to get a gun. You will then have criminals attacking defenseless citizens and eventually doing and taking what they want.” Daniel reiterated that if elected Sheriff of Sumter County, his department will be a proactive department rather than a reactive one, which, in Daniel’s opinion, is what it is right now. He stated that he will fight for the law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights, not take their guns and will honor Sumter County’s Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution. “Unlike my opponent, I will not sit by and wait to see if something happens. Will he (Bryant) take your guns?,” Daniel asked rhetorically.

Col. Bryant was asked the same question and he began his response by saying that the question concerns all of the citizens of Sumter County. “I am very pro guns and I am a very strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” said Bryant. “I have no intentions, nor do I see the need of taking guns away from law-abiding, lawful-carrying, permit-carrying citizens. However, I do agree that the guns do need to be out of the hands of criminals. In my 20-plus years of law enforcement, a gun has never committed a crime.”

Bryant continued by saying that if he is elected as Sheriff of Sumter County, he will continue to take criminals off the streets and bring them to justice. “When it comes down to protecting those that are our lawful-gun owners and gun carriers, we strongly support them,” said Bryant. “I’m a gun owner and carrier myself. Therefore, there’s no intention of me taking weapons away from anyone and, along with our governing body, they felt like there wasn’t a need at this time to address gun control in Sumter County and therefore, that’s where the decision stayed.”

Bryant closed by saying that he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and that he wants all law-abiding citizens of Sumter County to be able to lawfully possess their guns, no matter what kind of guns they are.

Near the end of the debate, both candidates were asked why they believe they should be the one to be elected as the next Sheriff of Sumter County. Col. Bryant stated that experience is important when it comes down to law enforcement and that is one of the reasons why he believes he should be the one to be elected as sheriff. He stated that not only is experience in maintaining law and order necessary for the job, but also experience dealing with people. He also said that the next Sheriff of Sumter County needs to be engaged in the trends and changes that are affecting law enforcement every single day. Col. Bryant added that his dedication to law enforcement should also be another reason why he should be elected as the next Sumter County Sheriff. “Dedication is the reason I should be elected as the Sheriff of Sumter County and being dedicated to serving and protecting the citizens of Sumter County,” said Bryant. “There are many times where family situations or personal situations either are put on hold or rescheduled in order to ensure the safety of citizens of Sumter County and I think that dedication is important for the sheriff of the citizens of Sumter County.” He went on to say that being committed to doing the right thing at the right time is also an important component to being sheriff and that he should be elected to the position of Sumter County Sheriff because he is committed to doing that. “Commitment, not only to just Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., but this commitment, if elected as your next sheriff, would go seven days a week, 24 hours a day, which is important for all of the citizens of Sumter County,” said Bryant.

He also that added that staying involved within the public safety of the community is important, as well as being engaged and having conversations with other public safety officials about the happenings in the county.

“Being a county sheriff is not just you by yourself,” said Bryant. “It takes the partnership of your other law enforcement and public safety partners in order to maintain that public safety. Not just sitting at the office, but being engaged and having conversations with all of those public safety partners, which is important and vital to the growth of public safety. We can’t do what we do without the needs of other public safety partners, which is most important.”

Col. Bryant added that if elected, he also wants to stay involved with community and civic organizations. “You don’t know what the concerns are with the citizens or the community if you’re not involved in what they’re talking about and what they have issues or concerns with,” said Bryant. “And that involvement does entail attending, making phone calls, answering people’s questions and getting out amongst the people to hear what they have to say.” Bryant added that it is important to give a lending ear to the community in which one serves. “Once you are elected as sheriff, if you don’t give that lending ear so you can listen to the people of the community and what their concerns are, then you are defeating the purpose of sitting in the Office of Sheriff,” said Bryant. He added that if elected Sheriff of Sumter County, he plans to make an effort to be connected to the community. “I want to be accessible in times where people feel like if it’s a concern of theirs, then it becomes a concern of mine,” said Bryant.

When Daniel was asked why he thinks he is the right candidate for the position of Sheriff of Sumter County, he began by stating that it is time for a change and that he has a plan to make that change.

“The citizens of Sumter County deserve a sheriff that is knowledgeable, trustworthy, has integrity and high moral standards,” said Daniel. “The men and women who serve under the Sheriff of Sumter County deserve a leader who will lead by example, will serve their needs as they serve and protect the citizens of Sumter County. I’ve always felt that politics should not be associated with law enforcement. I feel that it can and has caused some good people to become corrupt before they even realize they were caught up in it.”

Daniel went on to say that for that very reason, he doesn’t consider himself a politician and will never be a politician, nor will he be someone who can be bought.

He went on to say that he will treat everyone equally regardless of race, sex, political views or their economic status. “To me, everyone should be treated the same,” said Daniel. “As your sheriff, I will be that leader and not that politician.”

Daniel went on to mention his military service in the United States Navy, as well as his 28 years of law enforcement experience and public safety experience. “I have worked in almost every division of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office,” said Daniel. “I was fortunate to gain valuable law enforcement and management experience while working for three different sheriffs from 1988 to 2016 when I retired as a captain from the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.”

Daniel went on to say that he put together the Sumter County Local Emergency Planning Committee and helped to establish the E911 Center that currently serves Sumter County and other surrounding counties. Daniel continued by mentioning the numerous experiences that he has had in law enforcement and public safety.

Daniel stated that one of the main things that he will do if elected as Sheriff of Sumter County is strengthen each division of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office by utilizing the experience and training of the officers in each division that have shown exceptional knowledge, experience and leadership. “I will provide the best training and cross training of each employee so that all officers will have the confidence to perform their duty to a higher standard,” said Daniel. “I want to give the deputies not just the minimal training, but advance training that is needed for deputies to perform their jobs so that not just the deputy, but the citizen always stays safe.”

Daniel continued by stating that law enforcement needs to earn back the trust between itself and the citizens and that he plans to do that, if elected as sheriff, by going into neighborhoods and talking to the citizens to find out their concerns so that the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office can help find ways for them to feel safe in their own neighborhoods.

The main message from Daniel, however, was that if he is elected, he plans to have a sheriff’s office that is more proactive than what it is currently. “As long as we continue to be reactive, criminals will have nothing to worry about,” said Daniel. “As your sheriff, I will be proactive and I have a plan to change this. I will work with all local, state and surrounding law enforcement agencies to create a much needed task force to fight the drugs, gangs and crime that has taken over our county.”

Daniel went on to say that, in his opinion, it seems as if the citizens of Sumter County are the only ones that believe there is a problem, but added that he knows that it has been a problem and that it seems as if no one wants to do anything about it. “As your sheriff, I will make this a top priority. That is not a promise. That is a fact,” said Daniel. “I will also use this task force to help the deputies serve the almost 4,000 warrants that are just sitting in filing cabinets in the sheriff’s office to take some of these criminals off the street.”

Daniel added that he wants to look at other programs that are being taught in schools that are making a difference and keeping kids on the right path through school and after graduation. “According to data, there are programs that are much better and the data has shown that these programs have made a difference in reaching and staying with the kids,” said Daniel. He also stated that if elected, he plans to bring criminals to justice, but also will try to find ways for those who are incarcerated to be rehabilitated so that they can be put on the right path to success in life.

“With your support, we can build a better Sumter County,” said Daniel. “You’ll find that my door is always open between early voting on October 12 through November 3 and I ask you to vote and elect Philip Daniel, Sheriff of Sumter County.”