Drugs and public education and communication dominated the discussion after current Sheriff Clark Millsap shared goals that have been accomplished within the department and Knowles shared his desire to continue moving the department forward in opening statements.
The first question of the night, and one that several people have asked, "Who is Dan Knowles?" With a smile, the man answered that not having his name recognized is viewed as a positive attribute.
"In my job at the school, if I have name recognition that means things went bad at the school house," Knowles said. "So not having my name out there is a good thing. I have a [Bachelors] degree in management, an associate in criminal justice. I've also been to chief executive training. I've been in law enforcement for 20 years from jail to patrol to the SWAT team, sniper, school patrol. If you're a hostage, just lean to one side, I'll get the bad guy for ya. Being the chief for seven years, to me, that brings the experience to the table of supervising and managing. ... I manage 20 facilities and almost 14,000 students."
In a reply to the same question, Millsap introduced himself to the audience and residents who were listening to the program as broadcasted by WBHF-1450 AM radio.
"I've been your sheriff for 12 years and I've got 28 years of law enforcement experience here in Bartow County," Millsap said. "I've got a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from West Georgia College, which is [University of] West Georgia now, 1985 graduate of Floyd Junior College regional police academy, which is now Georgia Highlands, and I'm a 2000 graduate of the Sheriff Elect Academy of the Georgia Sheriff Association."
In light of the February incident regarding the Stand Your Ground law in Florida and the concerns raised around self-defense and neighborhood watch situations, the question of whether or not the law should be modified in Georgia and it's clarity was asked of the candidates.
"Stand your ground, I believe you have a right to defend yourself," Knowles said. "Putting yourself in a situation is not necessarily defending yourself. I'm not saying that you should run every time, but just like we tell our students at school, if you have an opportunity to walk away, take that walking away rather than standing there and getting yourself into something you don't need to be in."
The sheriff agreed with Knowles, saying that he is a "firm believer in our Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.
"I also believe in the case that you're speaking of that it went a little bit farther than stand your ground," Millsap said.
In addressing issues raised in the previous debates for the seat of county commissioner, numerous questions were raised regarding the Drug Task Force and funding for the operations of that team.
"I will keep the task force forever as long as I'm the sheriff," Millsap said. "If we can find the funding to give them additional funding ... I'd be glad to. They are self-sufficient now with confiscations and things such as that. The city of Cartersville and the sheriff's office, we do provide some assistance that we can. The Drug Task Force is very important. As you know, they're all federally deputized, so if we need to take the case up to the federal level then we can and ... being a part of the FBI Safe Streets Task Force helps with their salaries also."
Knowles agreed to keep the DTF but with the idea of finding a different way to fund the department.
"Of course I will support the task force, also," Knowles said. "I see the influence that drugs has on our kids every day. I do believe that we could fund it a little differently. According to the budget, the Drug Task Force gets $2,000 and I totally also believe in the DARE program, it's funded at $35,000. They are self-sufficient, but I think we need to take those funds that have been seized or give them a budget up front so seized funds have time to clear the courts and everything before they're accessed. It's almost, to me, like a conflict of interest. I've got to make this case to get these funds to be able to support ourselves. Let's get those support funds there first and then, let's say this year they confiscate a quarter million dollars worth of assets then next year they'll have a quarter million dollars in the budget and let it roll forward like that."
Methamphetamine and the war against drugs was brought before the candidates as a concern and the question was asked as to what each would do in reducing the local problem with meth.
"The Drug Task Force has been outstanding in that battle. We see every day where these guys are doing an outstanding job with limited resources, so I'm not gonna take any of that away," Knowles said. "I do see that fighting the meth problem is a multi-faceted event. It's a business. ... It's more than just enforcement, you can't just lock everybody up. You've got to do it through education and other support services."
Millsap agreed, noting that a establishing a partnership with local stores has been instrumental in the fight against methamphetamine in Bartow County.
"The thing is now, you don't get the local chefs anymore," Millsap said. "With the local laws that have passed, we have a great working relationship with our hardware stores. If someone comes in and buys a large quantity of Coleman lantern fluid and it doesn't look like they're going camping, we've got a great relationship with everybody here and they'll give us that heads up. We'll use that information and other avenues and other resources to gather up information about people who may still be dealing. But imported meth, a lot of people bringing it into the county, we're stopping that as best we can. It's a battle that's gonna go on forever and ever. We'll win a few of the battles, but we may never win the war, but we're gonna keep fighting the war for as long as we can."
Moving along, a question regarding felons who have ankle bracelets was raised and both candidates agreed that monitoring them outside of the jail would be the best for everyone as the burden would be eased on taxpayers. Both Millsap and Knowles also agreed that bringing back the citizen's police academy would be a positive idea and finding the funding would be a concern as Millsap said, "education is the main thing."
Knowles agreed, saying that he would like to establish an open firing range for citizens with permits as well as bringing the academy back.
"I believe in the citizen's academy. That's how our citizen's get involved and see what we do," Knowles said. "So yes, I'd like to bring it back. I'd also like to add, not just for a citizen's police academy, maybe once or twice a year having an open firing range for folks that have gun permits or want to have their children be familiar and provide that service either through a county firing range or coordinate it through our outstanding citizens who own their own firing range."
Communication with the people also was a question presented to the candidates and both responded positively toward the thought. Millsap said he was unsure how the department could be more open and Knowles said he would like to build a website that includes the budget and crime statistics to keep citizens up to date on what is happening with their law enforcement agency.
As municipalities are growing with an increased population, law enforcement coverage for Bartow's incorporated cities has been a concern as well. The question of whether or not the sheriff's office would provide assistance for those areas was presented and both candidates answered in the affirmative, saying the deputies would patrol those towns as they are in the area and respond to calls as they are placed.
Regarding the disbandment of CrimeStoppers, Millsap said that the sheriff's office has an anonymous tip line that can be utilized in the same manner and Knowles said he would like to establish a reward program similar to what he currently has implemented in the schools that works the same way as the former CrimeStoppers reward for tips leading to an arrest and conviction.
Both also said that they are prepared to handle the changes coming forward and, with laughs, said they look forward to working with their future employees in attendance and request prayers and votes in the July 31 primary.