By ROBAEL ENYEW
When the polls opened up for early voting in Georgia on Oct. 15, the ballot for the Cobb County Sheriff included the names Neil Warren and Gregory Gilstrap for the third consecutive time..
The sheriff of Cobb County is enlisted with the responsibility of protecting the public, stopping and preventing crime, monitoring the criminals already incarcerated and maintaining the status of the jail.
Since 2004, Warren has overwhelmingly defeated Gilstrap in the elections with margins of 2-1 in 2004 and winning 60 percent of the votes in 2008. Acknowledging that his first priority is his job as sheriff, Warren has not lost any passion for his campaign.
“It puts a lot of hardship on you; a lot of work on you, but I enjoy campaigning. Seeing people, meeting people…. I’ve been around it almost all my adult life and I love it,” Warren said.
Firm Hand Enforcing Immigration Law
Warren has become a target of controversy and criticism since he established the 287(g), a program that allows state and local agencies to team up with federal agencies in enforcing immigration law in Cobb County in 2007. Warren was the state’s first sheriff to implement the 287(g) in Cobb, which is one of only four counties in Georgia that takes part in this program.
Warren has repeatedly denied all accusations of racial profiling, calling them “completely false” and “absurd.” He has been targeted and criticized by pro-immigration groups and was dubbed “Wild West” Warren by a columnist for the Marietta Daily Journal in 2010.
“I have no problem with immigration; that is what the country was built on. I am all for immigration, I just believe in doing it the right and legal way,” Warren said.
Though many were quick to critique Warren’s implementation of the 287(g), just as many stand by and support his actions. One is Kyle Aycock, a resident of Cobb County who attends Kennesaw State University.
“I understand that there are many illegal immigrants who help our country, but I feel that the amount of damage done is more,” Aycock said. “I believe that if someone truly wants to be a part of our country, then they will, and should, do it the right and legal way. We [American citizens] have laws that we have to follow too.”
Aycock said he was only slightly knowledgeable and informed on both candidates and is still unsure of who he will vote for.
Gilstrap: Focus on Youth Education and Officer Training
Gilstrap was contacted for an interview and did not return phone calls. A glance at his website reveals that it does not address the issue of immigration anywhere. His agenda reveals a focus on issues such as educating and protecting the youth, fighting increasing crime rates and providing officer training in diversity, court and jail services and criminal processing. He also mentions plans to assess the Sheriff Department’s budget and make sure the proper staffing and training is taking place by meeting with all department heads.
Since the beginning of the 287(g), Cobb County has turned over more than 14,000 illegal immigrants to federal agencies and FOX News has named Warren one of “America’s Top 10 Toughest Immigration Sheriffs.”
Besides continuing this work, Warren plans on focusing much of his time on training. He emphasizes the importance of all employees in the police department having the correct training for their specific job.
“I want to know that the officers that I send out to the streets are properly trained for the situations they could come across,” Warren said. “I want to know that they are trained to use the gear and weapons they have and are as safe and protected as we can train them to be.”
Targeting dealers and users of illegal narcotics has been a consistent component of Warren’s agenda as sheriff. He says it is “always important.”
This past September, Warren teamed up with the Narcotics Unit of Marietta, Cobb, and Smyrna, arresting two men in northeast Cobb and seizing 6,800 pounds of narcotics. The narcotics were listed at a street value of $30 million making this “one of the biggest narcotics seizures ever in Cobb County,” according to Warren.
Resident Wants Action
Beletu Tadesse, 55, has been a resident of Cobb County for over 25 years. Tadesse is “sick and tired” of seeing all the drug dealers and users in her county and wants to see something done to stop it from getting worse.
“I have been here since this was a smaller community, but with Kennesaw State University growing as fast as it is and seeing so many more people living here, I know drugs and problems are soon to follow,” Tadesse said. “It seems like everyday I see a large drug bust in an area not far from my home, and I just don’t want it to get out of hand.”
On his website, Gilstrap too mentions that informing the youth and providing more programs to help substance abusers is a top priority of his. In addition, he addresses the problem of drug abuse within the inmate population and his plans to create programs to help rehabilitate them. One of his top priorities is to create “a Pathway to Freedom program that would prepare inmates for re-entry into society by offering volunteer basic computer classes, better opportunities to obtain a GED, reading and math tutoring and basic job interviewing skills.”
There are only a few days left until Election Day. Warren is coming to the end of his campaign; he notes that he and his campaign are going to have to start working “double-time” in order to respond to the many requests of yard signs by supporters – one week saw as many as 500 requests for signs.