The Bryan County NAACP gave voters an early look at the two men running to be the county’s top law enforcement officer with an Aug. 27 online forum.
During the approximately 90 minute event streamed live on Facebook and moderated by the NAACP’s Sandra Workman, Democrat Al Hagan and Republican Mark Crowe responded to questions – the first four of which they were given in advance – and told voters why they were running and what they hoped to accomplish if elected in November.
Both men are Pembroke natives who touted their early years of volunteer work, their law enforcement training and experience, and their ties to the community. Both said they want to improve the Bryan County Sheriff ’s Office in a number of areas.
Crowe, currently on leave from his job as a corporal with BCSO, noted his early years as a volunteer firefighter and first responder before he decided on law enforcement. He touted his 23 years of experience in law enforcement.
Hagan spoke of his experience first as a volunteer dispatcher with BCSO at the age of 15, then his years as both a paid deputy and Pembroke police officer before going back to BCSO as chief investigator. He later served as an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation before retiring and has since started up his own polygraph company in Macon.
Here’s the first of a two-part look at of how the candidates answered questions posed by the NAACP and residents during the forum. The second part of the story will run in an upcoming issue. Both questions and answers have been edited, both for brevity and clarity.
The candidates were first asked to give a mission statement for the job. Crowe said his would be “to build a department that is more professional,” with training that would continue throughout deputies careers, regardless of whether they worked in investigations or as patrol officers.
He also said the department under his leadership will be dedicated to the safety of Bryan County residents, or “dedication to provide the very best service we have to offer.” Crowe said he wanted to build “a staff that looks at their position in the Sheriff’s Office as a career, not a job. A staff that works with me, not for me.”
Hagan said his mission statement would start with creating a “well equipped, well trained force,” and continued through listing the responsibilities of the sheriff’s office to noting the importance of community engagement, and the recruiting and training of deputies.
He also said “we must regain the trust of our citizens,” through transparency and accountability.
Hagan referenced the Constitution a number of times during his answer on how he would serve as sheriff, saying, “It’s all about the Constitution.”
On child safety
Both candidates include child safety as a priority on their campaign websites, and Workman asked whether that meant putting more resource officers into the schools and whether they should be armed.
Hagan, who went first, said he was not for putting armed officers into elementary schools, but they would be armed at the middle and high schools.
Hagan said he wants to work with school officials to provide elementary school teachers on safety training. He also wants to begin a “school crossing guard program,” to bring in “non-certified officers to direct traffic around schools during school hours and at events such as games “so certified officers are not taken off the roads.”
Crowe said he wants to work with the school board to make sure there’s a school resource officer in every school in Bryan County, but “it’s one thing to have an officer there as a babysitter, and another to have an officer there who can protect students.”
Crowe said his student resource officers would be armed and trained to protect the school while also serving as mentors to students. Investigations into allegations of criminal activity by students would be handled by BCSO.
Both candidates were asked whether they had plans to increase diversity at BCSO.
Though he answered yes, Crowe said there’ve been few Black candidates, and even fewer Black women, to apply for jobs in rural departments such as BCSO.
“I would like to see that change,” he said, adding he would like to start a program to recruit more diverse deputies, including Hispanics.
Crowe said BCSO has made strides in promoting Black deputies, listing a captain, sergeant and others who’ve risen in the ranks.
“I believe we have a good diversity of Black officers,” Crowe said. “But could it be better? Absolutely.”
Hagan said diversity was about more than Black or White, adding that BCSO should be able to show to all candidates the department has a fair hiring policy.
“We must be able to show we have equality within our department, and people are allowed to have upward mobility,” Hagan said.
Hagan said he would recruit both Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield for candidates and implement military preference programs,, as well as participating in job fairs, instituting a junior deputy program and adding educational benefits into a recruitment package. He also said the county’s geographic location should be an enticement to potential recruits.
“Anytime you’re near water, people want to come,” Hagan said.
Workman asked whether the candidates thought there was systemic racism in local policing, given national protests over the widely publicized deaths of Black men at the hands of police in recent months.
Hagan said he once wrote a lesson plan on cultural awareness for a law enforcement course in 1996. But he said he was hesitant to say there’s systemic racism everywhere, noting that’s painting policing with “a broad brush,” but it does happen.
“Absolutely it exists, but to say it exists everywhere is unfair to a lot of people,” he said. “Our sheriff has done a lot of good things in Bryan County law enforcement, and if there had been systemic racism we wouldn’t have a Black captain … you can’t always paint it as being a racism issue.”
Hagan said there needs to balance in law enforcement and “balance in everything we do.”
Crowe said “this was a question I wasn’t sure how to approach. I didn’t know as a 52-year-old White male if I was even able to see systemic racism, so I reached out to a few people.”
One of those people was his adopted son, who is Black, who Crowe said has “been stopped a couple of times by law enforcement officers, many of who were White,” and “he said he didn’t see racism,” during the stops.
Crowe said he also talks to friends in law enforcement who are Black, and “asked if they could see anything I couldn’t in law enforcement,” and both told him they didn’t see “systemic racism in Bryan County.” Some had, Crowe said, seen it elsewhere, “But I don’t believe Bryan County has that problem. But under my command …. racism of any kind, systemic or not, won’t be tolerated.”
Conflicts of interest?
Crowe was asked about the potential for conflict of interest given his wife, Becky, is Bryan County’s Clerk of Courts.
Crowe said the question arose early in his campaign and he called state election officials to see if there was a conflict.
“I was told it was not a conflict of interest,” he said, adding that the two departments are separate and audited, and the only daily interaction they have is the issuance of traffic tickets or arrest warrants.
Hagan was asked about his business, Central Georgia Polygraph, Inc., (DB), and what he would do with it if he’s elected. Hagan said he would retain ownership but turn the running of it over to managers. He said he has already stopped doing business in Bryan County so there won’t be conflicts. “I’ll be a full-time sheriff,” he said.
Use of force
The candidates were asked about use of force issues, and firing shots at cars.
Both men said both are wrong and that BCSO policies on use of force will be updated where necessary.
“My policy would be no chokeholds, and no shooting at moving vehicles,” Crowe said.
“One of my first orders of business will be to put together a use of force policy that says, one, you don’t shoot at moving vehicles,” Hagan said.
Chokeholds are illegal in Georgia. He added he may include judo in the department’s training so deputies will have a non-lethal way of dealing with combative suspects.
Candidates were asked about body cameras and whether there would be penalties for deputies who turned them off. Both men said they are proponents of body cameras and in car cameras, for a number of reasons.
“It keeps the honest honest,” Hagan said, adding he already uses them in his business, and “the recording speaks for itself. My policy will be if a camera is turned off, the case is tainted, period.”
Hagan also said it’s for the safety of deputies. “I want them to be safe,” he said.
Crowe said he wants body and in-car cameras and policies requiring their use, though “there are some things to work out with privacy issues, such as having them on when an officer is coming into someone’s home and things of that nature.”
But, “I know Bryan County needs body cameras,” Crowe added.
You can watch a recording of the forum on Facebook on the Bryan County NAACP page.