Chatham County Sheriff candidates discuss problems facing depart - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Chatham County Sheriff candidates discuss problems facing department

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

In a little more than a week, Chatham County voters will choose a new sheriff.

WTOC spoke with the candidates about what they think the biggest problems are in the Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

Roy Harris was sworn in as Chatham County Sheriff in November 2015 when Al St Lawrence passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Harris became chief deputy in 2011, and after a few years with the department he sees the following problems as the biggest obstacles. 

"The lack of staff and lack of healthcare provider, particularly in the mental health areas," Harris said.

Harris said medical care is a major liability for the sheriff's office and jail, and because of this, the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) has its eye on the department. 

"The sheriff's office met all of the standards, but the medical care provider failed some of them so they put us on probation," Harris said.

Harris said they're in the process of getting off that probation this week, and making several changes in how things are done.

John Wilcher spent 40 years with the sheriff's office, and believes they simply need more bodies.

"The biggest thing is being short help. I know they're making efforts to fulfill those things," Wilcher said.

He believes the department needs to focus on itself before helping other agencies. 

"I believe in helping the other departments, but you have to help yourself first,” Wilcher said. “You have to do the job you are tasked to do as the sheriff or one of his deputies."

Retired Col. McArthur Holmes spent more than 30 years with the sheriff's office and has a different opinion.

"The problem is the lack of experience in middle to upper management," Holmes told WTOC.

He says the wrong people are in the top spots, and compared it to the "difference between managing a mom and pop store on the corner and managing a Walmart."

Kim Middleton, a retired major, believes the biggest problem facing the sheriff's office is inside the jail.

"The jail has become the dumping ground for mentally ill people, but the jail is not prepared and the employees are not prepared to deal with the mental health issues coming into the facility," she said.

She also believes there needs to be more social service and work release programs for women, as the number of female prisoners keeps growing.

Ken Williamson, a financial auditor and former reserve deputy sheriff, said he would have to get in the jail to see what's really going on.

"We get together with my staff and walk the whole jail, same with the courthouse , and see what the problems are there,” Williamson said. “Next day we get together and start solving the problems.”

But, he does believe hours need to be expanded.

"I'm for making the sheriff's department a 24/7 operation."

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