By SAM CASTO
Douglas County’s 2012 candidate for sheriff, Derrick T. Broughton, is the first African-American to run for the position. He addresses issues of experience, community involvement, national accreditation and race as his campaign challenges incumbent Sheriff Phil D. Miller in the upcoming November election.
The Douglas County Sheriff has jurisdiction over two cities, Douglasville and Villa Rica. The sheriff’s main duties include executing all processes and orders of the courts, maintaining custody of incarcerated individuals for court, and organizing law enforcement strategy.
Broughton, who is running for Douglas County Sheriff for a second time, said he has 20 years of experience in law enforcement, working in nearly all areas of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department. He argues that his supporters share his belief that the current administration in the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is poorly run. Among their complaints are claims that the officers are disconnected from the community; that the DCSO lacks state or national accreditation; and that local law enforcement doesn’t treat citizens with the respect that officers once did.
Many Miller supporters cite that the sheriff, who has held that title since 2000, has far more experience and a strong track record of decreasing crime rates, credentials that make him the better candidate. Barbara Latham, elections worker and supporter of Miller’s re-election campaign, is among those who hold this opinion.
“Experience. He has 41 years of experience. That’s what makes it,” Latham said.
Broughton rejects claims from those in the community who say that he lacks necessary experience.
“I have the experience to make that agency one of the best agencies in the state of Georgia. I have the experience to bring Douglas County up to a national level. I have experience bringing good customer service to the agency. I have the experience to run a jail,” Broughton said. ”I can do anything he can, and better, because they need new, fresh ideas in the sheriff’s office.”
Miller declined to comment for this article. However, in an interview with the Douglas County Sentinel earlier this year he stated that crime has decreased nearly every year he has been in office. He also pointed to 2010 statistics, such as the DCSO’s 100 percent clearance rate on murders that year compared to a 64.8 percent nationwide, as well as significantly higher clearance rate percentages in areas of aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle thefts when compared with national numbers.
Broughton said that Miller does not seem to be trying to move the DCSO forward. He argues that getting the DCSO nationally accredited is important for maintaining professionalism within local law enforcement, because it holds officers to strict guidelines, which in turn helps to prevent lawsuits by avoiding negligence, profiling and other unethical misconduct from occurring. A national accreditation will open the door for federal grants to help supplement training and equipment for the sheriff’s office.
“The reason they don’t want to get the agency accredited is because they don’t want to change their routine, their system that they have in place now,” Broughton said. “The sheriff’s office has been sued… I don’t know how many times they’ve been sued because of negligence within the sheriff’s office.”
Teddy Crews IIII, a Douglas County citizen, said that while he isn’t totally familiar with the accreditation of law enforcement agencies, it seems like common sense that a sheriff’s office be held to a set of standards.
“There should be some set of rules for them to follow, be it an accreditation or not, you know. They should still be held liable for what they do if they do something wrong,” Crews said. “Basically there should be a set of checks and balances with everything there.”
Community policing is another main platform for Broughton’s campaign. He said that it would greatly help improve crime fighting if citizens were more able to communicate with the DCSO about crime in their community.
“We have to have help from the citizens. Law enforcement can’t do it alone. We have to have eyes and ears in our community,” Broughton said. “Community policing would help us bring Douglas County up to today’s standard of law enforcement.”
Crews shares Broughton’s sentiment that the DCSO officers don’t do a good job of maintaining citizens’ respect, and thinks that those relationships were better in Douglas County when he was growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“If you did something wrong and you got stopped, the people were nice to you. They’d sit there and chit-chat with you. You know, now it just seems like, here’s what you did wrong, here’s your ticket, bye. It’s like you know, your salary’s coming from my taxes. Um, you could be a little bit nicer about this,” Crews said.
The Ethics Issue
Broughton said he has experienced quite a bit of unethical treatment during both this year’s campaign and in 2008, but he doesn’t let it get to him like he did last time. The offenses range from random drive-by racial slurs to threatening phone calls, and his campaign signs constantly being removed. He witnessed an inmate getting out of a sheriff’s department cleaning crew transport vehicle, removing Broughton’s sign, and leaving Miller’s sign next to it in place.
“And the thing is, they don’t have a problem doing it. I have gotten calls that I ignore, but in the back of my mind I pay attention to them, try to make sure they’re not trying to harm me or my family… but I hear it all the time,” Broughton said.
Broughton said Miller’s campaign may even have gone as far as trying to intimidate local businesses to prevent them from posting Broughton’s campaign signs.
“He has a lot of pull being the sheriff. And he’s real powerful, because right now he can do stuff people don’t say anything about,” said Broughton. “These convenience stores they say, yeah we support you [Broughton], but we can’t put anything up because people are threatening us.”
Greg Baker, candidate for Douglas County Tax Commissioner in this year’s general election and Broughton campaign volunteer, said that he has lived in Douglas County for quite some time and has not personally experienced anything negative about Miller’s administration. He says that the officers have always been very nice to him. Baker says he thinks both candidates have been respectful of each other during this election.
“I think it’s going to go down to the wire and that the best man will win this time. And I think it’s going to be a close election,” said Baker. I hope everybody keeps things above board.”
Douglas County Race Issues
Broughton and Baker said the recent census reflects a majority African-American population inside the city of Douglasville. While Broughton realizes he is the first African-American to run for the position of sheriff in Douglas County, he said that’s not why he decided to run.
“I just happened to be the first African-American, and you also have to run in the county you reside in. But I’m running for sheriff because I want to give the citizens in Douglas County an opportunity for change,” Broughton said.
Crews acknowledges that a race issue has existed in Douglas County for some time, and that it may affect some people’s decision on who to vote for. He hopes people can overcome it and look at the candidates more objectively.
“It’s not the same place that it was. It’s time to leave that in the past. You know? If this is the best man for the job, then get him in there. If he’s not the right man for the job, then get somebody else in there,” Crews said.
Contesting 2008 Election Results
When Broughton ran previously in 2008, election officials left out his middle initial ‘T’ on the ballot. According to Broughton, they created new ballots that included his middle initial and the two ballots wouldn’t merge, causing officials to have to manually re-enter votes. Broughton claims this incident offset the votes by 25,402, and afterwards he filed a complaint against County Elections Supervisor Laurie Fulton and County Chairman Tom Worthan contesting the method and results of the election.
According to an article in Douglasville Patch written by James Bell, in a 2010 plea agreement, Douglas County accepted a fine of $1,000 for several actions that the State Board of Elections ruled were violations of state law. The court also ruled that Broughton failed to file a complaint within the five day period allotted from the date of election certification and that his claims that votes had been seriously skewed were unfounded.
This year Broughton is hoping to have an outside agency oversee the elections to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again. He thinks people are ready for a change in the sheriff’s department.
“I think his time has come and gone and it’s time to move this agency forward. The generation is changing, people are changing, so the sheriff needs to change. That’s the way I look at it,” Broughton said.