Republican Sanders says he’s the one you’ll want to go to when things get tough
by Eric Johnson
Republican sheriff candidate Freddie Sanders challenged a forum audience the other night, asking them to contemplate the election as if their eyes were closed.
“Forget I’m white,” he said. “Forget he’s black. You’ve heard all of us. Now, if you go home tonight and you’ve had a home invasion and one of your loved ones is hurt, who would you want to come out as your sheriff? I’m that sheriff.”
It’s a persuasive argument, but whether or not it’s enough to motivate Democratic voters to overlook his political affiliation remains to be seen. Sanders, who faces Mike Godowns in the Republican primary, knows Augusta is a Democratic town, but he’s choosing to run as a Republican, which means if he wins the primary, he will take on either Scott Peebles, Richard Roundtree, Robbie Silas or John Ivy. And in spite of recent sparring between some of the candidates, he said all his opponents are qualified for office and none of them are without fault.
“Everybody’s got baggage,” he said. “If you’ve lived this life, you’ve got baggage. And you’re not running for pope.”
Even the fact that Richard Roundtree left files and guns behind when he moved out of an apartment and was found to be having affairs with female members of the department shouldn’t preclude him from being sheriff.
“Should it affect whether or not you vote for him…” he asked, letting his voice trail off. “But precluding someone from being sheriff means you can’t meet the qualifications, and he stayed in law enforcement. I know what the spin is, but I don’t know what the actual facts are.”
Though many know Sanders as a successful attorney, people forget that he was actually chief of the Richmond County Police.
In 1983, after Sheriff J.B. Dykes was convicted of bribery, the county commission took the funding for the road patrol and investigation away from the Sheriff’s Office, which was under the direction of newly elected Sheriff Charlie Webster, and gave them to the Richmond County Police Department, run by Sanders.
“I stayed there until 1985,” Sanders said. “In 1985, the county commission had a vote. They let the public vote, and by a pretty good majority, they voted to put it back under the sheriff. The sheriff took on everybody that worked for me except me.”
That included future Sheriff Ronnie Strength.
By then, Sanders had been in law enforcement 16 years, but thanks to a program that allowed law enforcement employees to get a college degree, Sanders had earned his law degree from Augusta Law School, so he went into practice.
When the sheriff absorbed the police department, Sanders said, he basically kept everything as he’d set it up, including the look of the force.
“Ronnie Strength and I, along with Major Billy Carter, we picked out cars,” Sanders said. “Those were the color cars we picked out. The uniforms are what we picked out. The patch is what we picked out. When it went back under the Sheriff’s Department, they just changed the wording.”
In spite of the last 27 years as a lawyer, Sanders said his heart has always been in law enforcement.
“My friends are in law enforcement,” he said. “The fact that I’ve been gone doesn’t mean that I’m not ready to hit the ground running.”
And in spite of some of the impressive credentials possessed by some of the other candidates, he insists he’s still relevant.
“I think I bring to the table something different than the other candidates,” he said. “They’ve never run a department. I created a department.”
Once thought by some to be a safety net if heir apparent Peebles should lose to Roundtree in the Democratic primary, Sanders has demonstrated a willingness to tussle over the issues, particularly with Peebles.
“It’s not a secret that [conservative local radio talk show host] Austin Rhodes is 100 percent in Scott Peebles’ camp,” he said. “The day I announced, it shocked Austin and he started coming up with things I never thought of, the first being that I’m just a safety valve, which is absolutely absurd.”
He also disputed one of the other theories about his campaign, that he was running as a Republican to validate his Republican credentials in order to run for Superior Court judge.
Sanders’ age — 63 — and his experience often put him at odds with the other candidates when it comes to issues like community policing, which he doesn’t support.
“Community policing by the Department of Justice is where you actually go in every neighborhood and set up a small department and it has autonomy,” he said. “They had that one time called the Weed and Seed program in Barton Village. They had eight deputies that stayed in Barton Village. They had about a million-something dollars in federal funding and it stayed there and it reduced crime.”
Without that funding, and keeping to the Department of Justice definition, he said it would be cost prohibitive.
Instead of community policing, he said, he believes in policing the community.
“Of course you go into the community,” he said. “If they’re not out there doing that, something’s wrong. That’s policing 101.”
But simply assigning people to a segment of the community and giving them autonomy isn’t realistic when it comes to the overall duties of the Sheriff’s Office.
“Somebody’s got to police the highways, because you’ve got people being killed on the highways,” he said. “Well, the people who are going to police the highways are the same deputies that you say are going to stay in the communities. And in the evenings, they’ve got to check businesses.”
Overall, the Sheriff’s Office has 275,000 contacts a year with the community, which is why he said he favors hiring call takers who would take a report over the phone when the crime warranted it, thereby freeing up the field officers to do other things. That way, a stolen car can get processed quicker and broadcast quicker.
Though he tends to be less aggressive against those locked up for using drugs, he takes a hard line against the more violent and invasive crimes.
“It sounds silly, but when I was chief of police and you had your house broken into, I was insulted,” he said. “It was on my watch and somebody had the gall to go in your house. That’s one of the most serious crimes to me, to invade your privacy, invade your security.”
Calling himself the law and order candidate, he said that with these kinds of crimes, he’d follow up by going to court and letting the judge know exactly what they did, which is similar to his answer to the First Friday problems.
“I would arrest them, put them in jail and I would go to the judges and let them know they were down there on First Friday and this is what they did and try to let the judges know that I supported them giving them the strictest punishment they could,” he said. “Word would get out that if you’re going to go down there and ruin somebody’s good time on First Friday, this is what’s going to happen to you.”
And what about the funding, which Sheriff Strength has lately been saying is so difficult to come by?
“It’s a short period of time,” he said. “You’re not talking about putting people down there for days. It doesn’t take you long to flood that area with law enforcement and get rid of those people and get them in front of the judges.” You Might Also Like: