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Sheriff’s race draws varying vows to bring about change

Chief Deputy Floyd Bonner has noticed a major uptick in crime, especially among juveniles and young adults in Shelby County, he said in a recent interview with The New Tri-State Defender. The increased involvement of juveniles in crime will be a major challenge for the next Shelby County Sheriff, he said.

Bonner and retired Sheriff’s Office Capt. Bennie Cobb are facing off for the Democratic nomination while County Office of Preparedness Director Dale Lane is unopposed in the Republican Primary in the next Shelby County Sheriff’s election.

Bonner said the sheriff’s office is implementing programs to help reach at-risk youth and providing resource officers with special training for schools.

“We’re doing a lot of things to reach these kids,” he said. “We have school resource officers in middle and high schools. They are trained and are expected to minister to at-risk kids.”

But Bonner said more needs to be done and law enforcement can’t do it alone.

“Everybody in the community needs to join hands on this,” he said. “With our county being as impoverished as it is, there are a lot of things working against us. It can’t be a police issue. It has to be a community issue.”

Bonner said a lot of the crime is committed by people 25 and younger, a period he calls “the impressionable years,” when young people choose the road they are going to take in life.

Another problem is people with mental-health issues who end up in jail because of crimes they commit while they are not taking their medication. He said more needs to be done to help these people because “some of them don’t belong in jail.”

Bonner said more federal funding should be allocated for this.

“If we can build a wall and put that money into mental health and our education system, not only would we have a better Shelby County but a better America,” he said.

The recidivism rate for incarceration makes the problem even worse, he said. At a recent forum, Bonner said a lot of the young adults who go to jail opt to stay there and do time rather than bonding out, helping to aggravate the overcrowding problems at the jail.

Bonner said as sheriff, he will be a “change agent” to make the sheriff’s office more responsive to these issues. Bonner said he will be an advocate for getting church organizations, businesses and the community involved in changing the mindset of these young people.

The sheriff has to be out front, Bonner said. “I’d like to increase our footprint in the schools because I think that’s where we can make a difference.”

Business involvement is also important, he said, because jobs keep young people out of trouble, and allow those who get into trouble to start rebuilding their lives.

“We’ve got to have businesses that are willing to give them a second chance,” Bonner said.

With only 640 deputies, Bonner said the sheriff’s department has its hands full with patrolling the county, but is always willing to assist city police when needed.

“I have never told MPD no and we will continue to provide manpower for MPD,” he said.

Cobb calls Memphis a “very unique place” because of the high crime and low economic pockets in the metropolitan area. This is especially true in the African-American community, he said. But while the city residents pay the bulk of the taxes that fund the sheriff’s office, “we’re not getting any services to reflect that.

“The sheriff cannot continue to be a suburban, rural sheriff,” Cobb said. “We want people to look at the sheriff a lot different than they have in the past.”

Cobb said recent marches against police shootings of citizens and other activities represent a resurgence of activism in the inner city.

“There’s a major movement going on and the sheriff has to be responsive to that,” he said. “We have to go out and be boots on the ground to show the citizens we care.”

Cobb said the sheriff’s office also has a history of not promoting African-Americans and women to top positions in management and that has to change.

“There have been a lot of lawsuits for lack of diversity and discrimination,” he said. “There is only one female above the rank of captain. I know we can do better than that. It appears the status quo believes ‘let’s continue to do the way we been doing it.’ ”

Cobb said he wants to make the sheriff’s office more responsive to all the citizens of Shelby County.

“I want to be the sheriff that’s responsive and accountable to the community, the employees and to the taxpayers,” he said. “I want to bring the sheriff’s office to the community and we’re going to invite the community to partner with the sheriff’s office. It can’t be us against them and them against us.”

Lane, who is running unopposed in the Republican Primary, agreed that the most critical issue for the next sheriff is the increase in violent crime, where the suspects and the victims are getting younger.

Lane said he would focus on implementing measures that would impact youth crime.

“We have to give our young people a different path to take,” Lane said. “We’re actually going to have civilians pulling together those resources.”

Lane said law enforcement has to partner with faith-based organizations and businesses to make that happen.

He said education probably is most the important factor in changing the culture of youth violence in terms of educating children about the dead end that awaits them if they choose to join gangs. He said there are also some very worthy intervention programs that should be duplicated throughout the community that can help to change the direction at-risk children are headed in.

Lane said he will bring a problem-solving attitude to the sheriff’s office and that part of that will be to rebuild trust among the people in their government officials. You do that by constantly building relationships, he said.

“Under my administration we will have a larger footprint in the inner city,” Lane said.

Lane said his operating philosophy is that every employee of the sheriff’s office should go out of their way to help people. He described himself as a “change agent” and not a status-quo guy.

Lane said the core values that drive his actions are his relationship with Jesus Christ, his wife, Karen, with whom he has been married for 31 years, and his love of Shelby County.

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