- Local News
--By Brad Wilkins on --
With Election Day around the corner, voters in Forsyth County may have increased their focus on the Presidential race, but we still have elections to settle here at home. One of those contested elections is the race for Forsyth County Sheriff. Duane Piper won the Republican primary in a runoff against the incumbent Ted Paxton, but there is a new entry into the contest. DT Smith is running as a write in candidate, and based on his ubiquitous signs and advertising in the county, he is mounting a serious campaign. I sat down with Smith to discuss a few of the most important issues on the minds of Forsyth County voters.
CummingHome.com: On the issue of spending, how would you manage the Forsyth County Sheriff’s budget differently than your opponent?
DT Smith: Duane has asked for a reduction of $5 million from the budget. He said he could do the job for $5 million less. Recently Sheriff Paxton gave him his wish and cut the $5 million out of next year’s budget. The commissioners have put that money aside and the next sheriff would have to go before them and ask for that money back. Duane did not wait. He has already called the commissioners to ask for that money to be put back into the budget. I also would go to the commissioners to ask for that money back because when you equate $5 million in salary wages and benefits, that would be 71 positions that would have to be eliminated. Those positions would be gone.
We have a new jail. It’s going to take about two to three years to build it. We also have the new court house. All these things will require more people. Then he will have to go back to get those positions. But they would be gone. You can’t get them back once you say you do not need them.
Where I can save some of the budget, is in some of the smaller units, such as the mounted patrol and the lake patrol and the crime scene investigation unit. I can augment the crime scene investigation unit, which is nationally accredited, with certified reserve officers, who are volunteering their time. They can augment that unit and help them to do more processing which would be a service to the citizens.
The lake patrols and the horse patrols, which are very much needed, are used at the Avenues to prevent auto break in’s, we use them near the lake, parks and greenway. Those units can be turned over to certified reserve units. We can put those units in the hands of volunteers. What we can save if we use just one of the certified reserve officers, is a substantial amount. We have approximate 9 or 10 certified reserve officers now. If we expand that program as Fulton County has done, we can use those people on missing children cases, searches for Alzheimer’s patience, or any kind of crime scene without pulling more officers from the street. They can keep doing their job of providing services to the citizens.
That is one way I can augment the budget to reduce the cost and still provide the same services, but we cannot do it if we take $5 million out of the budget.
Cumming Home.com: Do you think the $5 million budget cut is unrealistic long term?
DT Smith: I think there are ways, when the new jail is built, we will be able to pull back on some of the things we have not been able to control. When you have a jail as small as ours and the number of inmates we have on a pretty consistent basis, you end up needing to house the inmates out. The per diem rate when they are in Hall County is about 35 dollars a day. To get that rate, we need to maintain at least 100 inmates in Hall County. If it drops below that, the rate goes up. We are looking at a cost of just under $3 million per year. When the jail is built and we are able to start taking some of the inmates that are overflow from other counties, we should be able to start recouping some of these costs.
Cumming Home.com: So long term, budget cuts approaching that number become more possible?
DT Smith: The sheriff could do it. He could cut 71 positions but he cannot do it without reducing services. It’s a double edged sword.
Cumming Home.com: In your opinion, what is the best use for the Drug Seizure Funds?
DT Smith: There are things you can buy like equipment that helps continue the war on drugs, but we are regulated to a certain use for that money.
The best use is equipment. Cops are strange people. We do not do this job to become millionaires. The hours and pay are not good. You don’t get to see your family because you work at night. We can boost morale by getting them the best equipment. To do that with drug seizure money is a win-win because you are increasing the morale of the troops by taking money away from the drug dealers.
CummingHome.com: Forsyth County has enjoyed low crime rates. It is one of the things that attracts people to the county. If you were sheriff, what would you do to maintain that low crime rate or to make it even better?
DT Smith: Duane and I differ on certain things, but he and I do agree on one thing, and that is the School Resource Officers. As I am finding out raising kids in middle school, that is the target area. That’s where things start. In 5th and 6th grade, we are seeing more drug involvement and sexual activity and so on. The middle schoolers were left out and they do not have officers assigned to them. We have 5 officers for the high schools. I would do whatever I had to do to work out something with the board of education to get that program back into the middle schools. We need to increase the number of officers in the program.
CummingHome.com: You have worked for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s office for 25 years. Describe your relationship with the command staff and other officers. How will that relationship affect your ability to lead the department?
DT Smith: Familiarity breeds a kind of kinship. Cops are notorious for being a band of brothers. When you work with somebody for so long, you get to know what they are capable of and they in turn know what you are capable of. I have been in the department for 25 years. I have been through 4 sheriffs. Putting me back in there as sheriff will generate a lot of familiarity with the county and the city. They all know me. That is your best bet to have a really cohesive unit.
CummingHome.com: What is the most important difference between you as candidate for sheriff and your opponent?
DT Smith: Management experience and training. That is the defining difference that is just blatant when you do a comparison between Duane’s training and mine. Duane was a Lieutenant when he quit. That is a junior grade officer. It is not a captain or above. Captains are normally considered in the command staff. I hold the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, so for the last two years, I answered directly to the Chief Deputy, who is right under the Sheriff. So, when you boil it down, it comes down to management experience and training in that role as commanding officer.
I think a lot of time, people just wanted to get Ted out of there. Paxton had the experience and the training. I do not know why Duane decided to run against him. I told him not to waste his time. The day I called Duane to tell him that I was going to run against him, he asked me why I was doing it. He beat a guy that I thought was unbeatable. I said “You inspired me Duane”. “You showed me that nothing is impossible”.