Warner Robins Election Day is a week away on November 7th. We want to make sure you stay informed on the biggest issues facing the city.
So far, 2,083 early voters have participated in the election, according to Warner Robins' election supervisor.
Jacob Reynolds sat down with the mayoral candidates on Monday and asked them for more solutions to the city's rising crime rate.
We asked the candidates the following question:
We've done several stories on Warner Robins rising crime rate. The violent crime rate rose for the second year in a row this past year. We've asked you what you would do to suppress crime but we want to dig a little deeper. Besides raising the number of budgeted police officer positions with the Warner Robins Police Department, what is at least one thing you would do to suppress crime in the city of Warner Robins when you're mayor [or in your next term]?
RANDY TOMS: Well I think for me it’s a matter of some things I’ve already done. We have raised the number of police officers, as the question says, but we also have better compensated police officers with experience that had a tendency to be leaving us when they got a certain number of years and so we had to find a way to retain experienced police officers and we’ve done that with the pay scale adjustment. We’re starting to see some positive numbers in that regard and we don’t know yet how the pay scale adjustment is going to, how it’s going to retain officers. We feel good about it, hearing some of the conversations. But, the number of officers also is going to make a difference as we move into the future so, the things I would do, I’m already doing. And again, in the crime statistics we’re starting to see some positive numbers come out that put us back in a position where we’re going to be able to get a handle on the crime in the city of Warner Robins.
JACOB REYNOLDS: Clarifying question, the question does say one thing you would do to suppress crime in the city of Warner Robins when you are mayor in your next term. I understand what you’ve done already—
TOMS: I would continue to work with the police department to make sure they continue to do the positive numbers that we’re starting to see. And that is proactive stuff as opposed to reactive and we’re starting to see some numbers turn, so I would continue to push for proactive approaches to combating crime with, especially, self-initiated stops, and in that they’re able to stop crime before it happens and so we’re starting to see more of that. Actually, we have more positive numbers in the proactive area this year than we had last year. So, I would continue to do the proactive approach towards fighting crime.
JOE MUSSELWHITE: Number one is we got to put more officers in neighborhoods and in the streets. It’s been determined and our own police chief has said it, you fight crime by being proactive, not reactionary. I agree with that 100 percent. I support the neighborhood watches that we have going in the city. You know, when it comes to crime and things of that nature you can’t have too many eyes. We’ve got to all work together. I personally will be another set of eyes. You know, I’ll be out after hours, during hours, looking for everything from crime to a stop sign that needs replacing. We’ve got to all get in this together. You know, Chuck Shaheen’s been there 8 years, Randy Toms been there 4 years, crime keeps getting worse. It’s time to do something different. We’ve got to take a proactive approach to fighting crime, you know more boots on the ground and being proactive in my opinion is the only way to combat it.
JACOB: Just so I’m understanding, because we said besides ‘raising the number of budgeted police officer positions’ you’re in support of these kind of neighborhood watches, eyes in neighborhoods?
MUSSELWHITE: I am. I’m a big supporter of getting the number of policemen we are budgeted for now, on staff. We are short numbered today, of what we could hire. It’s not all about what we need to hire in the future, a big part of it is we have room, budgeted strength for officers that we’re not hiring. I don’t know what that problem is, one of the first steps would be to figure it out, solve it, and get people on the ground. This is Warner Robins, what a great place to work. I’m retired from Warner Robins and I can tell you it’s a good opportunity for people. The benefits are good, the pay’s not bad. I just truthfully don’t understand why the city’s got 52 openings citywide right now in its authorized strength. It used to be we had very few openings, people wanted to work for us.
CHUCK SHAHEEN: First of all, Jacob, if it wasn’t for you doing the research, we had no idea and that’s the communication breakdown between the Mayor and your Council. We have smart people on this Council that could help come up with some crime suppression, working with your Police Chief [Brett Evans], Chief Wagner. But what concerns me is 8 years ago, crime was not even an issue, it was actually building the Law Enforcement Center. Four years ago, crime was not an issue. It was about focusing on recreation. But today, four years later, crime keeps creeping up. It’s not an everywhere problem, it’s our problem. I have a plan in place working with Chief Evans and Chief Wagner, working with local community leaders to help suppress crime. So, I guarantee you in four years, when I’m the Mayor we won’t discuss crime anymore. It’s gonna be, what are we doing with our kid’s time? And how recreation is really focused on doing things for our kids and turning passive parks into seniors’ now. Senior citizens, to let them have a passive park. But, we have a plan. We’ve got to work together with our council and the mayor and your police chief to go forward with suppressing crime. And as I showed you a couple weeks ago, we met with the 78th Wing Commander, we came up with a policy to help retain and recruit military personnel. In that policy meeting, we found out that the state of Georgia does not accept the United States Air Force Police Officer Standard and Training (POST). So, by doing more research—we just can’t sit and let the water be stagnant. We have to be proactive. We found out, now, the state does not accept all the United States Air Force’s POST so I had a meeting together. Pastor Jerry Walls was in that meeting, he’s a big supporter of law enforcement, we met with Senator Tyler Harper, Senator [Larry] Walker, Representative [Shaw] Blackmon, Representative Heath [Clark], along with our Police Chief Evans, and Wagner, we met with the 78th Wing Commander. They collaborated together and much to my excitement and surprise the state changed the policy on how they accept the USAF’s security forces certification. So, those are things that we’re doing. We have to cover all our bases. What I’ve heard is it was a pay scale study. I don’t think criminals care how much you pay your police officers. We have got to get the best police officers, we need to reduce their hours, because they’re working too much overtime and being stressed on the police force. I’ve not seen one police officer in 8 years that told me they left because they weren’t getting paid enough money. Our police officers serve the people of Warner Robins and I hold them to the highest esteem. If you were to look at Webster’s Dictionary on a police officer, you’d find one from the Warner Robins Police Department. That’s how fine our police officers are. So, you have to have a mayor that’s vocal against fighting crime. That’s what I’m going to do. Even if it’s a crime that was committed 40 years ago, I want to make sure we solve these crimes. There’s still a couple cold cases that we need to solve for the city of Warner Robins. So, it’s not just today, it’s yesterday. If you learn from yesterday, you can have a better tomorrow. Tomorrow is having better recreation, having a better police force that is fully manned, and less stress on our police force. Bringing in retired police officers to help work maybe accidents or small thefts so your police officers can continue to be out there on the forefront in fighting these violent crimes. As you’ve said, and we’ve found from WMAZ, violent crimes have gone up 20 or 30 percent. Many of the violent crime, whether it’s armed robbery, rape, murder, and aggravated assault has gone up 20 and 30 percent. That is not acceptable at all when you have Robins Air Force Base. When you have personnel out here that need to bring missions to our city and crime is going up. We compete against every Air Logistics Base, Tinker and Hill. Oklahoma City and Ogden, Utah. Warner Robins has got to be proactive, working with your Police Chief Evans and Wagner, all your lieutenants and captains, and officers. A big part of our police force are our K-9 units. That’s what we do, everything. You can ask any policeman, anything they need to help fight crime I’m going to be a champion for them. Not just the last 8 years, but for the next 8 years because protecting your citizens is priority one.
JACOB: So I’m clear, I know one of the things you mentioned was better recreation and bringing in retired officers for lesser crimes and accidents? [SHAHEEN: Right.] To help reduce the burden on others?
SHAHEEN: Right, and I’d also like to see a Citizens-Police Committee. Okay? An action committee with retired police officers that have ideas on how to fight crime. They’re out on the streets. They’re out on the streets. Your barbershops, you hear a lot about people, barbers, trying to minister to these young kids. Why can’t we get some ideas from them? They’re right there on the streets. Our police officers know these people on the streets, we need to get them locked up and keep them locked up. So, I am standing with our police department, hand in hand. If you look at the facts, I think I’m the only mayoral candidate that actually rides with your police officers on Friday and Saturday nights. I’ve been through the [Citizen’s] Police Academy. Because, I want to feel as much of their heartbeat as I possibly can. They’re exceptional, they’re the highest quality of workforce with our police department and I’m honored and excited to serve the next four to eight years with them as well.