The two candidates for Troup County sheriff took part in a Thursday night forum hosted by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce.
Sheriff James Woodruff and challenger Ricky Ward answered four questions apiece, plus made an opening and closing statement. The forum was streamed live on The LaGrange Daily News Facebook page.
The topics covered included lowering the crime rate, keeping inmates and deputies safe in the jail and balancing the TCSO budget to ensure the sheriff’s office has what it needs to do its job effectively.
Woodruff, who has served as sheriff since 2013, said the key to lowering crime rates is increased community involvement.
“We do all we can, but we need them out there calling in tips, calling Crime Stoppers where they can call in anonymously and report crimes,” Woodruff said. “But it’s got to be a community effort. We’ve got to have our churches involved, our citizens involved, our businesses involved, and that’s the only way we will ever conquer this crime situation we’ve got.”
Ward said more focus should be put on talking to kids at an early age, and he mentioned the school system being involved. He wants young people to see the opportunities via college, and used his brother, Ernest, an example of how college can change a person’s life.
“Let’s start at a young age,” Ward said. “Let’s talk to these kids. Let’s open these doors and opportunities to ensure there is a better way.”
When asked about keeping inmates and jail staff safe at the Troup County Jail, Ward brought up COVID-19. The jail experienced an outbreak in June. District 4 Public Health tested every inmate and positive inmates were separated from the rest of the jail population.
“COVID-19 should have been addressed back in February,” Ward said. “In my opinion, the people that were incarcerated, I would’ve went to the judges and said ‘hey, the people here on misdemeanors, let’s do what we can do to release them.”
Ward said he would’ve told other local law enforcement agencies to write citations for misdemeanors, not to bring people to jail, to avoid an outbreak of COVID-19.
“As to COVID-19, if you know and everybody knows, when this started we were all on a learning curve … We tested every single inmate in that jail. We had 71 turn up positive. When we had those turn up positive, we immediately started a plan with my chief deputy heading it up, reclassifying those, putting some up on the hill at the jail annex separating them from the inmates at the jail.”
Woodruff discussed the difficulties of separating inmates due to the varying severity of crimes, a topic he discussed many times after the outbreak at the jail.
He said TCSO did exactly what Ward discussed to help lower the jail population during the height of the pandemic locally.
“As Ricky said, we did go to the judges and the judges did release a lot of people. We got our population down to 300 in that jail, with the help of the judges,” Woodruff said. “I did go to the municipalities and say ‘don’t bring unnecessary people to jail’ but some misdemeanors like family violence have to be brought to the jail … Violent offenders have to be removed out of that home. You cannot just give them a citation.”
Ward also mentioned giving inmates hopes for a better future after being brought to jail, such as a way to work on earning a high school degree or GED.
Woodruff mentioned crisis intervention training, which he said has helped jail staff handle inmates with mental issues.
On the budgeting and No. 1 priority, Woodruff said the commission has always met the needs of the sheriff’s office.
He used an example from when he first took office in 2013. Woodruff said six deputies didn’t have bulletproof vests at that time, and he asked the commission to fund the purchase of six more.
“They stepped up and gave me that money,” Woodruff said. “Every time I’ve gone up there with a legitimate need, they’ve met that need. There’s a lot of wants that we would like to have, and they don’t always supply the wants but they always supply the needs.”
Ward said it’s important that the community feels like Troup County is a safe place to raise a family.
“The number one priority would be to provide the citizens of LaGrange, Troup County, West Point and Hogansville a safe environment to live, to raise their family,” Ward said… “If their kids get into trouble, try to talk to them and head it off before it gets caught in the criminal justice system.”
In closing, Woodruff discussed his community outreach efforts. He said he’s Lions Club member; a board member of Pineland, the Georgia Sheriff Youth Home; a board member of the Boys and Girls Clubl a United Way board member; serves as second vice president of youth homes for the state of Georgia; serves as a hospice volunteer; and is on the domestic violence task force.
“I believe our service has to go beyond just being the sheriff, just wearing a badge, just going to work every day,” Woodruff said.
Ward, a longtime Troup County Marshal, discussed his work background in his closing statement, including 31 years in law enforcement. He also has worked as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, a supervisor for UPS, worked on the Home Depot freight team and was a mail room supervisor for the Wall Street Journal.
As part of that statement, he also called into question the chamber’s announcement of the annual Christmas parade, which is going to celebrate first responders.
Woodruff, as well as others at the announcement, was featured in pictures on the front of The LaGrange Daily News with a story on that announcement.
“The ad I saw in the paper was a way of them endorsing [the candidate I’m running against],” Ward said.
“They have him on the front page, two times, not one time. They had him holding a banner, and then they had him on there with Santa Claus and the Elf. To me, that’s wrong.”