Sheriff’s candidates talk about issues

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The campaign for Escambia County’s next sheriff is winding down as Election Day nears on Nov. 6, 2018.

The Brewton Standard and The Atmore Advance asked the two candidates — Heath Jackson, a republican, and Mike Lambert, a democrat — a set of questions relating to the sheriff’s office.

Each candidate was given the same questions.

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The questions and answers are the following:

1. What are the main issues of your campaign?

HJ: My campaign is focused on how far the sheriff’s office is behind when it comes to technology, equipment and training. If done correctly, the sheriff’s office would have upgraded a little bit at a time, but instead it has been ignored and has became a problem. As your sheriff, I will bring our agency up to date and be a front runner instead of 20 years behind other agencies.

ML: When I’m elected, I want to continue to take the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office forward into 2019. I wanted to continue to work hard on the opioid epidemic/drug issues that are going on. Then, anther thing I wanted to focus hard on is mental health. I have been appointed by the southwest Alabama Mental Health to their board of directors by the Escambia County Commission. That’s one of the biggest issues we have right now. I want to work on more competitive pay, so that we can be able to retain the deputies we have and for better recruiting. I want to continue to hunt and look for the money to be able to put a school resource officer in every school county wide, and make our schools safer. And to continue with technology that’s added coming out. In ever patrol vehicle, we have computers with printers and Internet access. It improves the efficiency of the deputies. We’ve already put automatic defibrillators in each of the cars.

2. What is the biggest issue Escambia County is facing crime wise, and how do you propose to fix it?

ML: The opioid epidemic and mental health. All roads lead back to this somewhere because of drugs. The people that are stealing, robbing and raping; every one of them you can go down the line, and see there’s a drug problem. I want to continue to try and get more deputies, to enforce the law as we have. We need to focus on more rehab and counseling in jail. the jail is already full of them. I will work hard on those programs to help these people while they’re locked up out here, and find something for them to get well.

HJ: Drug distribution is out of control in Escambia County. Most burglaries, thefts and robberies are committed because the person is trying to get the money to feed their habit. We will fix this by targeting the drug dealers who supply the addicts in our county. We will cut off the supply and push the addicts to be rehabilitated. I have the experience of working multi-million dollar drug cases and taking back our streets. Drug enforcement wont work if you only do it during campaign season.

3. A big issue facing the county is jail overcrowding. If elected, how will you address this issue, and what are some solutions you propose to counter the overcrowding issue?

HJ: We have to look at the reasons why each inmate is in jail. People who are less fortunate and can’t afford a bond that other people can will be looked at as well as if the inmate qualifies for other programs that gets them back on the streets as productive citizens. With the amount of federal inmate housing money being generated, we need to invest it back into the jail for more bed space and infrastructure to create more housing. We will not be turning violent offenders back out on the streets.

ML: That’s something I’m currently working on as a chief deputy right now. I’m working wth the county commission and the U.S. Marshals. We have an architect firm that’s already been hired that’s looking into what’s feasible, and continue to be a good steward of the tax payers’ dollars. And looking at the possibility of building a new facility or adding on to our current location we have.

4. If elected, who will you appoint as your chief deputy and why?

ML: When I’m elected, I will interview applicants and chose who I will think will do the best job in that position.

HJ: The current chief deputy has decided not to continue in the capacity as chief if I should be elected. I plan to not have a chief deputy and to utilize the funding for that position to put another deputy on the road or possibly two. I will have a captain as the second in command and that position is already funded in the current budget. I don’t feel that the agency has the need nor the funding for numerous salaries of that size

5. If elected, what changes would you make in the office?

HJ: Training is my top priority for the office.  The men and women want to do the job, they just need the training, equipment, and support to get the job done.  We will also upgrade our systems and move to a paperless system like most agencies did years ago.

ML: When I’m elected, I’ll look at every position inside the sheriff’s office, and I will evaluate them and I will make changes as I see needed. One of the biggest things they’re saying is if you want the status quo, vote for Mike. If you want change, vote for Heath. I’m not Sheriff (Grover) Smith. He’s been good to me and my family, and a great boss. I will review all of the policies and procedures in place. I’m sure I’ll have some differences and new ideas to help make changes, and make things better to work with.

6. There’s been a lot of talk, especially over the last year, about adequate inmate feeding. How do you plan to address this situation?

ML: To my knowledge, there’s been no talk or issues of that in our county as far as not adequately feeding inmates. Throughout the state, there have been issues about it. We haven’t that I’m aware of, we haven’t had any complaints about inadequate feeding. However, there is a lot of controversy right now and issues going on at the state level about what the money can be used for, and it’s bad legislation in my opinion, but I’m going to do what the law says. Right now, the law says that all you can use through the billed money for is feed the inmates. That’s what we’re going to use the money for, make it accountable, and that’s what I’m going to do what the law says on it. I’m going to do the very best job I can to feed the inmates with what we’re working with.

HJ: Inmate food funds will be used as they were intended. That money is public monies and should be spent as it was designed and allocated for. The inmates will receive nutritional meals but we also won’t be serving steak and potatoes. All monies for inmate food will be accessible to the public to view.

7. There has also been talk about the need for more accountability at the detention center among the correctional officers. Do you think this needs addressing, if so, how will you do that?

HJ: Yes it needs addressing. Most of the COs are hired and then given a set of keys and told to go to work. Is that fair to the employee? No. They deserve better than that. The jail will no longer be something we try to hide if I am elected. We will face the current challenges head on and create a better and safer way of operating. You can’t expect the best from an employee when they have been overlooked and treated unfairly.

ML: Yes. I do think it needs addressing. We should always be held to a higher standard in our positions. I think we can get more employees by increasing the number of correctional officers. If you got more staff in there and more help, people are less likely to be overwhelmed. We want to be able to to have better technology to take some of that load off of them, too, such as adding more cameras, more time keeping devices. It will also, if we’re able to hire more employees, to retain them with more competitive pay. Let’s ask for other agencies when the question arises, you can’t investigate yourself and we’ll continue to ask other outside agencies to come in and conduct the investigation.

8. An important part of holding office is being transparent. How will you make sure the public gets all of the information it needs to know in regard to the ongoing issues in the county?

ML: I do the majority of the press releases, and have been doing them for quite some time. I will continue to inform the public of these things they need to be informed on and on ongoing issues. I will never tell the press ‘no comment.’ I think that’s bad business. I may have to say that this is an ongoing investigation and at this time, we are still compiling information. At this time, we’re still getting information and give it to the district attorney and let him tell us what to do after presenting him the information. I have always had an open door policy as a chief deputy, and when I’m elected, I will continue to be the same way. You won’t have to have another appointment, and my door will always be open.

HJ: Social media has changed the way of life for everyone including law enforcement. So why aren’t we using it? We will create a Facebook page that gives accurate, up to date information for all to see. We will also use emergency text alerts and emails to let the community know what is going on. We will also put the expenditures of the sheriff’s office online for everyone to see. It’s your money, you should know how it is spent.