Incumbent Sheriff Hannah, contender Babb face off at forum
It was not exactly a showdown beween Fayette County Sheriff Wayne Hannah and challenger Barry Babb but the candidate’s forum held June 14 did give the nearly 200 in attendance a closer look at the candidates and their different perspectives on law enforcement.
Babb currently serves with the Atlanta Police Department and, prior to that time, spent 22 years with the sheriff’s office. Hannah was elected sheriff in 2008 and has worked with the sheriff’s office for 37 years.
Perhaps the most potentially volatile question of the forum dealt with Babb’s “demotion” after he ran unsuccessfully against Hannah in the 2008 election. Hannah was asked if Babb’s demotion from captain to being a deputy in the jail amounted to retribution because Babb challenged him in the election. A similar question also arose from the floor toward the end of the meeting.
“It was definitely not retribution. As an executive officer coming in, whether it be the sheriff or the CEO of a company, they are going to set up a command staff that they believe will be loyal to the needs of the sheriff and the sheriff’s office,” Hannah said. “So you set up your command staff first and work your way down the line. You (the questioner) said (the demotion) was to a deputy sheriff, which is the lowest position in the sheriff’s office. That’s incorrect. He was reassigned. I look at someone being demoted if they’ve done something wrong. That was not the case here. It was simply reassignment and the reassignment was to the jail. That’s not the lowest paid position and it was the highest paid position as a deputy sheriff in the jail.”
Babb was then asked the amount of his pay as a captain and as a deputy at the jail. Babb said he made $80,000 as a captain and $56,000 in the position at the jail. Babb said the ability to moonlight and make another $20,000 was prohibitive in his position at the jail since he did not have an assigned vehicle.
In terms of whether he thought the “demotion” was retribution, Babb said he didn’t “want to go there.”
In a related question that surfaced later and centering on his opponents in 2008, Hannah said one was demoted and the other (Thomas Mindar) remained a deputy.
In another question the candidates were asked their opinion on the most significant or serious law enforcement issue facing Fayette County in the next four years.
“Everyone’s concerned about crime, what’s happening and how we can do better about being out there deterring that crime. A lot of the meetings I go to, people are talking about crime and the perception that crime is skyrocketing,” Hannah said. “A lot of the issues people bring up (such as the Fayette Pavilion) are happening in the municipalities. (The city police departments) are doing their best to prevent crimes in their cities, but we’re primarily focused in what’s going on in the (unincorporated) county.”
Responding to a follow-up, Hannah said the sheriff’s office does assist city police departments in crime matters.
“The objective is that when a crime occurs, is to get as many people in the area to set up a perimeter,” Hannah added.
Babb in his response on significant issues said they included the economy and maintaining a law enforcement perimeter, especially on the north and eastern portions of the county.
“I’m asked why we can’t run government like a business. In a lot of ways we can though we don’t want to run the sheriff’s office for a profit obviously, but I think we need to take a look at some of the things that are happening. I believe nine people are retiring and most of those have some rank. One of the commissioners told me there seems to be some reluctance there not to fill those positions and that could save the county a lot of money,” Babb said.
Hannah in a comment in another part of the forum said some of those positions have already been combined.
The second part of Babb’s answer dealt with maintaining a law enforcement perimeter around the county.
“When I worked in Fayette County we went and did it whether (the crime) was in Brooks or the Fayette Pavilion or Peachtree City. We went where we were needed. The sheriff’s office is your perimeter. The threat is a northern, eastern arc. And when your perimeter is down you’re going to see a breach in that perimeter and I think that’s what you’re seeing,” Babb said.
Hannah in his opening remarks said he graduated from Fayette County High School and has been with the sheriff’s office for more than 37 years, working his way up beginning as a radio operator, progressing through the ranks to lieutenant colonel then being elected as sheriff in 2008.
“The one thing I hear from you all is being available to answer questions that you have. So I’ve been out in the community, homeowners meetings, community meetings, various civic group meetings, to be out there to see what your issues and concerns are,” Hannah said.
Hannah said the website for the sheriff’s office was initiated in 2010. The website contains a significant amount of information pertaining to the operations of the office, he said.
“Another reason for the website is so you can look on there and see information on crime prevention and crime deterrence so you can, hopefully, make yourself safer and not be a victim of crime,” said Hannah. “So our objective there was to educate the public on not being a victim of crime.”
Hannah also noted enhancements to the office in the past four years. Most of those came at no cost to taxpayers, he said, referencing the equitable sharing funds from drug seizures and noting that $6.3 million has been spent from those funds in three years for enhancements in a number of areas such as tools, equipment, technology and training.
“We can’t use it for personnel, but we can use it for anything that enhances law enforcement according to the federal guidelines we have to follow,” said Hannah. “Probably one of the biggest is technology, the records management system and the jail management system. The 911 center has just come on board with a new CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system so that deputies can see the calls on the computer system before they come out. So we’ve been doing a lot to serve you at very little cost to you. People seem to be appreciative of the services being provided.”
Babb in his opening remarks said a sheriff is the employee and the voters are the employer and this forum is the job interview, adding that he is happy to be interviewed at any time.
Babb said he grew up in Fayette County, saying that he could not have asked for a better place to grow up. He referenced childhood exploits such as playing ball in cow pastures, shooting BB guns and graduating from Fayette County High School. Babb also noted, with examples, his memories of the in the room where the forum was being held when in years past it was a one-screen movie theater.
“This is family, this is home, this is what it’s all about,” Babb said as he introduced his children and his parents.
Babb then moved on to his experience in law enforcement.
“My professional side is 22 years here with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office. I worked my way up from the bottom. I worked my way from the jail, patrol, detective, to captain and in charge of patrol officers,” he said.
A question to Hannah asked about the responsibilities of the sheriff’s office and who has authority over the sheriff.
“I believe the sheriff is mentioned over 200 times in Georgia statutes so there are many jobs that the sheriff does. Geographically, we are patrolling the unincorporated areas of Fayette County. We’re a full-service sheriff’s office so we not only secure the jail and courthouse, we do patrol, criminal investigations and all police-related services,” Hannah said, noting that the list of responsibilities pertaining to security for the courthouse is pages long. “We maintain a list for the registry of sex offenders in the county. The metal recycling is now (the responsibility of) the sheriff. The list goes on and on.”
As for who has authority over the sheriff, Hannah said the sheriff is elected by the voters so that is who the sheriff answers to.
“Some people say the sheriff answers to the Board of Commissioners. The sheriff is one of four constitutional officers in the county. They don’t actually answer to anyone but the citizens of the county. Of course we work with the Board of Commissioners. They approve the sheriff’s budget and we work with them on the budget they approve for us,” Hannah said.
Another question went to Babb, asking him why he felt he would be an effective sheriff.
“I’m a teacher, I’m a law enforcement teacher,” Babb said, then holding up a knife to help illustrate his answer. “Have any of you ever heard the term, ’tip of the spear’? This is what I feel like I am, this is what I feel like I do best and this is what I want to do here and this is what I’m doing now somewhere else. I want to be the tip of the spear, the first point of entry. I want to be the one in the field for you. I’ve led units in the field. I’ve always been in the field. That’s what I do best. I think that gives me a leg up because your officers need to see you up front leading them and they need to trust you.”
Hannah in response said he appreciated the thought, adding that the deputies are in the field where they have supervisors.
“The sheriff is the one behind the scenes that’s furnishing all those people down the line with what they need,” Hannah said, noting that all personnel have their specific job responsibilities.
Yet another question dealt with the $1.2 million in technology upgrades that came from drug seizure funds. Babb was first up.
“Technology is good. It doesn’t replace a lot of skills that we have to use as well,” Babb said, then using cell phones as an example of the short-term durability of technology equipment and the time frame that exists between when fund are seized and when the sheriff’s office receives its cut of the proceeds. “When we talk about technology, when it goes bad or you can’t get parts for it really quick is the burden going to be back on the taxpayers to keep it going. Do we need 60 laptops when maybe 20 would have worked? There’s a lot of things like that that worries me because that money is not coming in like it used to. “
Hannah followed up saying the three-year total of $6.3 million spent was accompanied by a total of $7.9 million in seizure funds that were received, adding that the software program was purchased by a reliable company that has been in business for nearly 20 years.
The next question referenced the current crime statistics compared to those of five years ago.
Hannah referenced the top seven serious crimes, called Part 1 crimes, that are often used to reflect a community’s crime rate.
“That’s the number we look at to get a measure of what’s going on. For 2011 that number was 847 for total Part 1 crimes,” Hannah said, adding that Part 1 crimes have been decreasing over the past few years through 2007. “If you go back to 2006 we’re exactly where we were at in 2011. The crime rate is pretty flat since 2006. In 2005 it was higher than that. That’s on our website. You can see where they run each year through 2005.”
As a follow-up question, Babb was asked why it seems like the crime rate is up.
“I believe the intensity is higher. But don’t let the statistics fool you,” Babb said, citing the example that in past years there were no weapons being discharged during bank robberies. He cited another example of a city detective that found a number of stolen cars in a salvage yard in Fayette County. That number grew to approximately 100 stolen cars. “If that city detective had not found that, that’s 100 felonies that would have went away and never been logged as statistics. If we’re proactive we may find a lot (of crimes).”
Babb when asked about crime numbers said the numbers he was referencing were those from the entire county, adding that the numbers Hannah provided for the sheriff’s office were accurate for those time periods.
“But to me, I don’t want to rest on that because there is no acceptable number of victims. If we do have a leg up then let’s go further. Let’s drive then down and be more proactive,” Babb said.
Hannah then responded, saying that the vehicles Babb referenced were stolen outside Fayette County and brought to the junk yards in Fayetteville and being sold as scrap metal due to a loophole in state law for vehicles over 10 years old that do not require a title to be sold.
Essentially a follow-up, the candidates were asked why it seems like a lot of criminals come from outside Fayette County and why they feel comfortable coming here.
Hannah said law enforcement sometimes has difficulty getting criminals to come to Fayette County for sting operations due to Fayette’s reputation for having a tough criminal justice system.
“The others, the burglaries and thefts, are our top numbers. I don’t think those individuals keep up with (the court system). I think they just ride and look and see what’s available,” said Hannah. “That’s why our objective is to be out and be visible and use that visibility as the first line of defense and as a deterrent to have them go somewhere else.”
Babb also responded to the question.
“If you look at the headlines in the past few months... I believe the comfort level is up higher,” Babb said, adding that there is nothing left to steal in Clayton County. “I believe (that is) right. So we have to be aggressive, out there on the front, the tip of the spear. And I disagree, I think the sheriff should be out front.”
The next question pertained to a recent incident where a drug dog bit an innocent person and how many citizens and deputies have been bitten.
Hannah said his office has a total of 10 canines used for various purposes such as drugs, tracking, handler protection and apprehension. The reference to the recent dog bite dealt with an incident at Walmart where the dog left the vehicle when frequency interference from another transmitter source caused the car door to open and the dog to exit and subsequently bit the Walmart employee on the arm and in the groin area. The system’s manufacturer had not notified its customers of its recent history with the equipment malfunctioning, Hannah said. That system being used in several vehicles has been disabled until they can be replaced, Hannah added.
Babb said he did not want to comment because he did not want to be subpoenaed when the lawsuit comes out.
Another question asked the number of command positions in the sheriff’s office and how many of those were held by blacks.
Hannah said the office has four division directors, three males and one female and all are white. Overall, the office has 78 percent white and 22 percent minority as of nine months ago.
Babb also weighed in saying diversity is a good thing when you police a diverse community.
“I know it’s tough to run a department and get all the needs met but it’s something that’s out there,” said Babb. When asked if he believes there should be more diversity in the command positions he said, “I believe the person should have the job because they are qualified and I believe there are some really qualified people in the sheriff’s office.”
As for their best traits as leaders, Hannah said his was being a listener while Babb said his is being the point man on the front lines.
Hannah in a follow-up said, “I’m there for everyone now, listening. I think this thing about being the point man, that’s the deputies job and they have supervisors. When it’s a critical incident I’m there. But that’s not the primary responsibility of the sheriff. I’m in my office many times responding to citizens’ issues and meeting with citizens. So it’s a little different.”
The candidate’s forum was held at the Harvest Christian Community Center in Fayetteville and was sponsored by the Fayette County Local Issues Tea Party.