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Sheriff candidates say they won't limit their duties

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Neither candidate for Clayton County Sheriff would limit the office to just its traditional duties of serving warrants, operating the county jail and protecting the courthouses.

Both candidates, Republican Jack Rainwater and Democrat Kem Kimbrough, spent the primary season contrasting themselves to outgoing sheriff, Victor Hill, and both adamantly opposed what they called Hill's "arrogance" and "showboating."

During two debates last week, however, the two men talked about altering and expanding the specialized units formed under Hill.

In one debate, Rainwater said he would keep up Hill's Cobra Unit and Stalking Unit. In another, Rainwater said deputies in his administrations wouldn't just serve warrants, but might also respond to 911 calls.

"You're not limited to just those jobs," said Rainwater, who started his career at the Atlanta Police Department, and now works in private security. "There's nothing to say that while they're out there, out serving those papers, they can't enforce the law."

The Republican candidate said on Wednesday that if he is elected, he'll try to get all of the officers certified through the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training organization. The certification would mean none of the deputies would be restricted to the jail duty or courthouse duty. He said the difference between the county police and the county sheriff's office is the police are "first responders," but then he softened the distinction.

"Here again," Rainwater said, "it does not mean that sheriff's deputies cannot go to those calls as well."

Rainwater also softened his stance on abolishing the county police department. Hill made "consolidation" a central piece of his campaign, and the issue has come up several times during the 2008 race. Originally, Rainwater flatly said he opposed it, and repeated his promise to "take ego and arrogance out of the job."

Last week, though, he said his opposition to "consolidation" wasn't firm.

"At some point, it might be able to happen," Rainwater said. "In metro Atlanta, unfortunately, there is a need for both a sheriff and a police department. I don't think we'd see great savings in the first five to seven years. I just don't see it being feasible."

The Democratic contender for sheriff doesn't plan to limit deputies to the their traditional duties, either. But Kimbrough's plans are more limited than Rainwater's.

Asked about "consolidation" last week, Kimbrough maintained his opposition, and actually strengthened his objections. He said the question is "inappropriate," unless it's being brought up by citizens and not by politicians who have something to gain. He said the idea "borders on disrespect" to the deputies, implying their jobs aren't as good as police jobs.

Kimbrough's plans, if he's elected, call for an immediate push to serve warrants, but he says, at some point, he'd divert some deputies to patrol beats. The system he's interested in, is openly modeled after the police department's, but Kimbrough has said the deputies wouldn't respond to 911 calls, but would be available to the citizens, and as back-up for police officers.

Kimbrough, a lawyer who previously worked as a major in Clayton County Sheriff's Office, also wants to keep at least one of Hill's specialized units, but he's going to change the way it works.

Asked on Wednesday about the problem of domestic violence, Kimbrough started by criticizing the idea of Hill's Stalking Unit, and then said he'd reorganize it. "'Stalk the stalkers'? I'm not sure how effective that is, to fight thuggery with thuggery. I want to reorganize the deputies in the unit so cases are assigned to deputies, like investigations are assigned to detectives."

Kimbrough also said he sees a significant role in his administration for crime prevention, working with citizen's organizations and advocacy groups. The Democrat always tempers each plan with a re-commitment to work with the county police department.

"All of our actions have to be coordinated," Kimbrough said, suggesting that the sheriff's office should be pulled back to its pre-Hill scope, though not limited to just the three duties traditionally spelled out for it.