Columbia County Sheriff's Position Up For Grabs
All three newcomers point to FDLE data showing a 40 percent jump in the crime index last year, one of the highest increases in the state.
Columbia County Sheriff Bill Gootee is running for a second term. He's proud of starting a citizen's service unit of volunteers to take some of the workload off his deputies, bringing the office into the electronic age by using email and improving the website, and seizing more than $650,000 worth of drug money.
"We've made great progress and strides," said Gootee. "Training has improved, we've done great things. We moved very light years ahead from where we were."
Mark Hunter has 14 years of law enforcement experience including one year as second in command under Gootee as well as serving as a Lieutenant Colonel in the National Guard. He says with only a 16 percent clearance rate of crime, change is needed by stabilizing the deputy turnover rate and putting more officers on the street who are involved in the community.
"The people that live in that area, know it a lot better than to a deputy just riding through," said Hunter. "And when you get to know your community, that's the community involved policing. Not a program or a bunch of hype, it's the deputies interacting with citizens."
Wayne Keen retired from the sheriff's office four years ago after 15 years of service as a deputy, in the jail and in administration. He wants to streamline purchases, hire retired certified officers to work part-time and put more deputies on the street.
"A criminal has to have 2 elements to commit a crime, that's a motive and opportunity," said Keen. "I can't do anything about his motives but I can get my deputies out in the neighborhoods working with the people I can cut down on his opportunity."
Keith Slanker has been an FHP Trooper for nineteen years. He says the current crime rate increase is unacceptable and tax dollars need to be spent more wisely.
"One thing we need to do is add more patrol officers," said Slanker. "It's a lot easier to catch the criminal in the act of the crime as opposed to coming back and solve the crime later."
The election is August 26th. If no one is able to get a majority, the top two men will have a run-off in November.
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