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Sheriff candidates tout experience

With two terms as Escambia County’s sheriff under his belt, Grover Smith will face newcomer Heath Jackson in Tuesday’s election to see who will hold the position for the next term.

Smith, a Democrat, said his years of experience are his best qualifications for the job.

“I have 38 years of law enforcement,” Smith said. “I served 12 years as chief of police and eight years as sheriff.”

Jackson, a Republican, said he has experience as a law enforcement officer as well, which he believes qualifies him for the position of sheriff.

“I have the law enforcement experience necessary to do the job,” Jackson said. “For the last 11 years I have been walking the beat in some of the roughest neighborhoods in our area. I know the damage that drugs can do in our neighborhoods because I am actively engaged in fighting drugs on a daily basis.”

Along with experience in the field of law enforcement, Smith brings a large amount of knowledge in areas of procedure and investigation to the campaign table.

“I am a graduate of the FBI Academy and have been trained by the FBI as a fingerprint expert,” Smith said. “I am a certified polygraph examiner and am also a graduate of FBI’s Southern Law Enforcement Executive Development program. I have attended countless law enforcement training seminars over the last 37 years.”

Jackson believes he has management experience that further qualifies him for the job.

“I have the management experience to run an efficient and effective sheriff’s department,” Jackson said. “As a narcotics investigator, I have led teams of more than 50 people on various law enforcement tasks, as well as overseeing budgets.”

Both candidates believe that drugs and its effects are among the biggest crime issues facing Escambia County.

“One of our biggest issues in this county is the effects of drug addiction and the lack of effective intervention,” Smith said. “Arrest and conviction are only the first steps in having a real impact on any crime.”

Jackson said drugs and the response of deputies are among the biggest issues for the county.

“I believe the widespread menace of illegal drugs is by far the biggest issue facing Escambia County,” Jackson said. “Additionally, response times by the sheriff’s department have become unacceptable. Finally, responsible management of the sheriff’s department is lacking.”

In handling some of the issues facing the citizens of Escambia County, Smith said a plan to make those arrested become better people is at the top of the list.

“The real change comes when you create a desire in every arrestee to seek rehabilitation,” Smith said. “Simply housing inmates doesn’t work, not when 74 percent of inmates are coming right back. We need new methods that give positive results. We spend over $16,000 per year for every inmate and we deserve to get back a better inmate than we sent to prison. I have dealt with inmates most of my life. It is my belief that most drug arrestees need to enter a specially constructed program that requires working in a prison facility such as a working farm while attending drug rehab at night.”

Jackson said he also has plans to handle the crime issues facing the county.

“I will aggressively enforce drug laws and put drug dealers in jail,” Jackson said. “We cannot simply hope that drugs will go away. We must aggressively fight drugs on every front. I will also promote drug prevention programs in our schools.”

Jackson also said he plans to implement other actions if elected to the office.

“I will increase the number of officers on patrol at any given time,” Jackson said. “I will also implement a new staging scheme that will ensure officers are geographically dispersed around the county at all times. As sheriff, I will thoroughly examine the entire sheriff’s department budget to identify inefficiencies. I will ensure that money is not wasted on pet projects or ineffective equipment.”

Both candidates say a successfully run department is essential to the security of the county.

“Progress is a step by step process,” Smith said. “We hope we effect change every day in response to our successes and our failures. We are in the beginning stages of our own work/drug rehabilitation program with the help of Judge Bradley Byrne.”

Jackson said he plans to operate the department with a different perspective.

“If elected sheriff I will bring a different perspective to the office than the incumbent has,” Jackson said. “Specifically, I believe in a more aggressive approach to crime fighting. I also believe that education is a key element in crime prevention so I will place a great deal of emphasis on involvement in our schools. I will emphasize responsible management of the sheriff’s budget to ensure limited resources are allocated in an efficient way.”

Voting for the office of Escambia County Sheriff, as well as other county and state positions, will be held Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Polls will be open across the county from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.