by John Semien
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Floyd Bonner Jr. and retired Sheriff’s Office Capt. Bennie Cobb both said they are against arming teachers in the wake of mounting violent attacks in the nation’s schools. Both are running for Shelby County Sheriff in the May 1 Shelby County primary elections.
They were answering questions at a candidates’ forum at Aspire Hanley Elementary School Tuesday night in Orange Mound. Bonner and Cobb will face off for the Democratic nomination in the race while County Office of Preparedness Director Dale Lane is unopposed in the Republican sheriff’s primary.
The forum was sponsored by the NAACP Memphis Branch, the National Civil Rights Museum, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and the Memphis Shelby County Voters Collaborative.
Bonner said the sheriff’s department currently provides 60 resource officers in 28 middle and high schools in the county. He said allowing teachers to carry guns is, “a recipe for disaster.”
“You need professionals,” added Cobb. He said he favored hiring security guards.
Both Bonner and Cobb said they favored a closer working relationship between the sheriff’s office and the community in the ongoing fight against violent crime, especially with churches and non-profit organizations. Cobb said a close working relationship would also help ease jail overcrowding and streamline the process for bonding out people who are clogging the criminal justice system.
“We need to be reaching out to the communities and to the bondsmen,” Cobb said.
Bonner said that some people who are arrested will opt for a stint in jail over release on probation because it allows them to resolve the situation without being “on paper” or reporting back to court.
This aggravates the overcrowded conditions where people who could be free are still in the system.
Before taking questions from the audience, Cobb said he has 40 years of law enforcement experience. He worked his way up the ranks from jailer to the upper levels of management in the sheriff’s department.
“My passion is making sure no kids are shot or killed with guns,” he said. Along those lines he said, “We can do better.”
Cobb said he wants to maintain the involvement of the sheriff’s office in the juvenile court system.
“We want to continue to strengthen the gang unit,” he said. “We need to have a collaboration with other entities.”
“I’m a member of the NRA,” Cobb said. “I don’t believe everything they say, but I do believe a good guy with a gun beats a bad guy with a gun.”
Bonner said he attended Hanley Elementary School as a child. He also started his law enforcement career as a deputy sheriff working in the jail, then in uniformed patrol. He is currently the chief deputy, the second in command at the sheriff’s department.
Bonner said the gun violence and other aspects of crime facing the community requires a sustained and coordinated effort on the part of everyone.
“We are all going to be a part of the solution,” he said. “We can’t afford to sit back and allow our communities to be taken over by criminals.”
“There have been too many homicides and too many deaths,” he said. “We need to have done something already.”
Cobb said that if there was one thing he could accomplish as sheriff it would be to let the citizens know that the sheriff’s office cares about them and, “engage the people that need the sheriff’s office the most.”
Bonner said he would focus on the children. “Our children are our future. Let them know we love them.
“We are headed in the right direction,” he said. “We are going to get this crime under control and make Memphis and Shelby County a safer place to live.”
Bonner said he will enhance what is already being done and work more with churches and non-profit organizations. Some of these entities are doing amazing things in juvenile court, he said.
“I’m not a part of the problem. I am a part of the solution,” he said. “We have good people, hard working people, people who are working hard every day to make a difference.”
Tuesday’s forum is part of a series of events sponsored by the NAACP in a effort to introduce the candidates in the upcoming May 1 election to the community.