Crawford County Sheriff Kerry Dunaway is set to retire by the year's end and four hopefuls are vying for his seat.
"I'm 50 years old. I've been doing this for 25 years. It's time for a change," Dunaway said recently.
In a race with no incumbent, each of the fourcandidates on the July 15 primary ballot plans on taking the baton from the longtime sheriff.
There are Democrats and Republicans, all with law enforcement experience. Two candidates currently work at the sheriff's office. Another went up against Dunaway in 1983 and lost that race by 22 votes.
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Ricky Ferrell, a former Republican candidate, was disqualified from the race Wednesday because of past convictions for misdemeanor fraud.
Dunaway said being sheriff in Crawford County has changed in the decades he's been at the helm.
"Of course you need a background in law enforcement. You also need a good strong administrative background. You've got personnel issues. You've got budgeting. It's so much more than going out and catching bad guys," he said.
Big issues are widespread drug activity and property crimes in the mostly rural area. Criminal investigations involving county officials have been frequent. Bringing the sheriff's office up to date with technology has been a priority.
Plans for a new Crawford County government complex and county jail are stalled because of budgetary dilemmas. The existing jail facility is not in compliance with regulations to house female inmates.
The candidates tout a roster of plans that include putting deputies into schools as drug educators, cracking down on burglaries and thefts, and keeping citizens better informed on safety.
LEWIS S. WALKER
Lewis S. Walker joined the sheriff's office in 1987 when the department had four deputies. Now he's captain of the patrol division.
A Crawford County native and 1987 graduate of Crawford County High School, Walker, 48, who is running as a Democrat, said he received his initial law enforcement training through a program at Robins Air Force Base. He said he holds certificates for three levels of supervisory training from the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.
It is his 20 years at the sheriff's office that make him best suited to follow Dunaway, he said.
"I think I'm the best candidate because of my 20 years of experience, my numerous hours of past training and my relationships that I've gained within the community," he said.
Walker said people have been asking him to run for sheriff for years.
"But I had no desire to run against Sheriff Dunaway. He gave me my position, and out of respect for him I had to wait," he said.
The new sheriff will need to keep up efforts to catch criminals who make, use and sell methamphetamine. The drug has taken a toll on the county in recent years.
There were more than a dozen meth lab busts and meth-related fires in the county in 2007.
Walker said he will be responsible with department funds and consistent in investigating drug crimes and arresting all criminals.
"The biggest thing would be to continue to serve the citizens here without increasing taxes and try to stay within the current budget; to continue to stay tough on drugs; to continue to receive training that will enable us to respond to the needs and citizens of this community," he said.
He said he plans to make no changes to personnel but wants to make the department even more technologically savvy.
"When I first came on, we used to handwrite our reports. Now we have laptops and mobile computers and can pretty much do anything a dispatcher does from our vehicles," he said. "We've been able to catch up with technology and stay pretty much ahead of the game."
This is not the first time Mike Becham has tried to be sheriff. He ran against Dunaway in 1983 and lost by 22 votes.
The 57-year-old security officer with the U.S. Marshals Service said he decided to run again following the death of his mother earlier this year.
"I feel I'll make a good sheriff and be a great public servant. I'll work on maintaining a safe and secure environment, reducing crime and fear of crime and protecting lives and property," he said. "I will be fair and straightforward in conduct, keep a high standard of personal and professional conduct, honesty and integrity."
Becham has 22 years of law enforcement experience, including more than 10 years with the Macon Police Department and the Crawford County Sheriff's Office.
Becham said his experience in larger agencies has helped prepare him to be sheriff.
"I've worked for bigger departments than Crawford County and dealt with issues on a larger scale," he said. "I understand that you have to assess situations and come up with ideas and approaches to fulfill the needs of your community and your personnel."
He said he has training in multiple areas, including criminal investigations, child abuse and stress management in law enforcement.
He said he is committed to public service.
"We have to respect the diversity of the people we serve and be dedicated at all times. I would provide professional law enforcement services to the county, and be compassionate and respectful in addressing the needs of others," he said.
He wants to organize drug prevention programs in schools and keep up the county's attack on methamphetamine.
"I have contacts with other local, state and federal agencies that I would not hesitate to call in and help me when needed, especially with handling the drug problem," he said.
He said he also would pay special attention to DUIs, speeding and thefts.
"We have a good many of these because the county is so rural," he said. "I'd like to work on these, especially the thefts, and see if we can't cut down on those."
Lee Henley, 29, is the youngest person seeking the sheriff's seat. In that regard, the Republican candidate said he plans to follow Dunaway's footsteps in more ways than one.
"By the Georgia code section, you don't have to have any experience at all. I do believe that the experience that I have will help. I believe that with ambition, leadership and God's help, I'll do just fine. The community is behind me and that humbles me," he said. "Sheriff Dunaway was 25 when he took office. Many years ago when I was a child, he came to our school and spoke with us. I knew right then I wanted to be in law enforcement.
"I applied for the sheriff's office with the intent of becoming sheriff one day. I told him then that I intended one day to sit where he's sitting."
Henley joined the sheriff's office in 2006 after serving in the U.S. Marines Corps for eight years.
He grew up in Roberta and graduated from Crawford County High School in 1997. He completed some college at Brewton-Parker College near Vidalia.
He holds post-certification in general and specialized weapons training and has taught at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, in addition to regional law enforcement academies in Macon and Crawford County.
Drugs in schools are something he plans to address.
"My first night on the job, we discovered a meth lab. From that day forward, that's what I focused on ... removing the drug problem. I have two young children in school here. To see the kids on drugs, it upsets me. I want to do something before my kids become that age. I want to make sure the schools are safe for them and all kids."
Henley said he would revive educational partnerships between Crawford County schools and the sheriff's office.
"I would immediately begin to work on a junior deputy program or D.A.R.E. .... something that would bring our community closer. The more eyes you have, the easier it is to do our job," he said.
"Also, spousal abuse, burglaries and robberies ... the crime rate is going up."
Henley said he would work on laws to lower the number of stray animals.
"We do not have a leash law here in our county. We have a lot of animal complaints," he said. "We have a problem with people from other counties and our own coming here to release their dogs when they don't want them."
Henley supports past goals to build a new jail facility for county inmates and state prisoners.
He says his vision for the sheriff's office combined with his military and law enforcement background make him a sharp candidate.
"My leadership ability, my certifications, my knowledge in the law, my care for the community, all of these things matter. I was born and raised here. To be on the road and see the problems we have here. ... I think in our community we need Christian leaders."
After nearly 20 years in the Roberta Police Department, Scott Moore says he is ready to be sheriff of Crawford County.
Moore, 45, a Musella native, said his administrative and managerial skills would help him handle the agency's finances.
"I have the ability and the knowledge to formulate a budget and successfully run the sheriff's office. I would keep them running in the black and not the red," he said.
On the criminal side, he said he would oversee thorough investigations of drug cases, working to identify connections between incidents and criminals.
"As far as investigating crimes, that's what I enjoy doing. I probably have an average 20 to 30 search warrants each year for the last three years," he said.
Moore said he would work on assigning a sheriff's deputy to Crawford County High School despite failed attempts by the school system and the sheriff's office because of cost.
"I feel like I can make a difference in the community by working to get us a school resource officer, so our children can get a quality education," he said. "It's cost-prohibitive the way they've figured it, but there's got to be some give and take. Being a parent with a child in the school, I will make this issue happen."
Moore said he has extensive training in firearms instruction and conducting searches and seizures. He has attended DEA classes in narcotics investigation. He holds an associate degree from Central Georgia Technological College in air conditioning and heating technology and various licenses in residential building, erosion and soil control.
He said he does not support a new jail because of lack of funds in the county.
To contact writer Ashley Tusan Joyner, call 744-4347.