Sheriff candidates address issues at Monday forum

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sheriff candidates Randy Freeman, left, Chuck Mayfield, center, and Travis Patten answer question to the packed room. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

Sheriff candidates Randy Freeman, left, Chuck Mayfield, center, and Travis Patten answer question to the packed room. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Two candidates offered change while the third asked voters to go with what he characterized as proven success at the forum for Adams County sheriff’s candidates.

Randy Freeman, incumbent Sheriff Chuck Mayfield and Travis Patten discussed their platforms at the Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum Monday.

The fourth candidate in the race, Elvis Prater, declined to join the forum, saying as an independent candidate he wouldn’t participate in any debates until his general election opponent is identified.

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When the candidates were asked what quality they had that would help county residents sleep better at night when the world seems to be getting crazier, Mayfield said his administration has provided that better night of sleep for the past six years.

“According to FBI stats, we have reduced crime by 50 percent,” Mayfield said. “We have had no major home invasion in over a year, no homicides. Our visibility of officers is a priority for us. Having officers visible has worked for us.”

Patten said it was his trustworthiness. Alluding to his time working at the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and at the Natchez Police Department, Patten said he is called on every day to gather information.

“People can trust me,” he said. “The simple thing is you can trust me, that I am going to take care of business when that information comes to me.”

Freeman alluded to a plan he has to place rural substations around the county, saying he will make deputies more visible to the people.

When the candidates were asked what qualifications they had to lead the sheriff’s office not only as just a law enforcement officer but as a chief executive officer, Patten said the time he has worked as a mortgage officer uniquely qualifies him.

Freeman said he would likely, “like the sheriff,” hire somebody to help with the finances.

Mayfield disagreed with the characterization, saying he is involved in the budgeting process.

“I collaborate with my department on a $5 million budget and come in under budget every year,” Mayfield said. “Dealing for six years with a $5 million budget, that qualifies me.”

Keeping with financial questions, when asked why the sheriff’s office budget has grown even as the area’s population has shrunk, Mayfield said even as the population decreases the community still has crime.

“There are a lot of new, innovative ways to fight crime out there, but a lot of it is technical and we need the equipment to do that,” he said. “Salaries do still have to go up. We ask for a lot of things we don’t get. As far as changing things, I can’t think of anything we can do to make it any less.”

Patten said he would implement a 30-60-90-day plan with the aim of evaluating, implementing and finalizing budget changes with an eye to cost reduction.

“I would also combine some duties,” Patten said. “I am a multi-tasker, and I don’t feel like you need so many specialized positions out there to do the same job.”

Patten said he would also bring in some of the take-home vehicles assigned to some people in the office, a point Freeman reiterated, saying “secretaries driving cars” shouldn’t be doing so.

Mayfield said the office does not have any secretaries driving cars.

“Only certified officers drive cars,” he said. “We have one certified officer who works in the front office, but none of my secretaries drive cars.”

Freeman said a lot can be trimmed from the budget.

“The budget is way out of line, and we have got to see where we can get more grants and funding, because I don’t want to see the taxpayers’ taxes going up.”

When asked if the violence that has sometimes followed incidents between law enforcement officer-involved killings nationally — and the heated discussions about race that have followed — could happen in Adams County, Freeman said the answer was to connect with the community ahead of time.

“We need to get back into schools and teach them right from wrong, and let them know we are not the bad guys,” he said.

Mayfield said he has gone into churches and schools.

“Over the years I have been in the schools time and time again and done seminars and conferences,” he said. “This community is not as divided as some are, this community is fairly unified.

“I have been to churches, schools all over but we do have to work with our youth and explain to them that we are friends.”

Patten disagreed, however, about the community unity.

“I feel like our youth and other members of our society are dying and being incarcerated at a higher rate,” he said. “I feel like there is a disconnect between the members of our community and the law enforcement community.

“We need to step up to the plate and go to them at a young age. This position is not just about law enforcement, it is also a ministry for us. Our lifestyles should be indicative of that — they shouldn’t want to run from us when they see us around the community.”

The candidates were asked to sum up their priorities in three points.

Mayfield said he would continue and possibly expand the work of Natchez-Adams Metro Narcotics, continue to bring new technology into the sheriff’s office and continue looking for solutions for the improvement or replacement of the county’s aging jail.

Patten said he would start more community outreach programs, improve the investigative department with better equipment and start a task force to identify people who were committing certain types of crime and ultimately reduce recidivism.

Freeman said he would utilize grants and other funding sources to build a new jail and sit down with individuals and youth groups to “try to get back into the lives of our youth” and “turn young people’s lives around.”