The public safety challenges faced by Macon-Bibb County will require its next sheriff to prevent crime through community engagement, by redirecting the energies of young people and by addressing basic human needs, all on top of enforcing the law. 

That was the near consensus of the half-dozen candidates for the job, including incumbent Sheriff David Davis, during the first forum in the race hosted by the public interest group Georgia Women at Macon City Hall Monday.

All six candidates have at one time or another been law enforcement officers in Macon, either for the now-shuttered Macon Police Department or the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office. 

As the incumbent, Davis was on the defensive through much of the forum. While the candidates and many in the audience were clearly anxious about the perception crime was on the rise, Davis cited statistics to quell that anxiety. 

“Let me give you the freshest news,” Davis said. “Last year we were down in violent crime by 43%. Thirty fewer people lost their lives to violence in Bibb County in 2023 than in 2022.”

While homicides did drop between 2022 to 2023, last year’s homicide rate was still the fourth-highest in the city in the past two decades and part of a generally rising trend in local homicides which began in 2015. 

Bibb County Homicides 2003-2023

Bibb County Homicides 2003-2023

Credit: Grant Blankenship/GPB

Former Bibb County deputy and current Fort Valley Police Department investigator DeAndre Hall said as sheriff he would use what he learned in the homicide unit to further slow the trend in violence. 

“Most of the crimes were happening pretty much in the same area: in the Black communities, in the low income areas,” Hall said. “I would like to see an administration that's more intentional about getting to the root cause of what the crime is versus is taking a reactive approach.” 

Over the past 20 years, the densest clusters of homicides have occurred in Macon neighborhoods where, almost 100 years ago, the federal government used the prevalence of Black residents as a pretense to tell banks not to lend money, a practice called “redlining.”

What’s more, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, today gun homicide is the leading cause of death in Macon for Black youth. The same data portal can’t name a leading cause of death for white youth in the community because there are too few to count. 

Candidates Marshall Hughes, Chris Paul and Ron Rodgers agreed there needs to be more attention paid to root causes of violence.  

“We got to implement new programs for the kids, the parents,” Hughes said. “ We are offering counseling, life skills are being taught and also tutoring after school programs have to happen.”

For Chris Paul, the root cause of dysfunction starts with the nuclear family. 

“Families these days are broken,” Paul said. “The men are not at home, in the family. We knew a long time ago when the man was in the house, the issues that we're having, the man, the dad was there to take care of those issues.”

Ron Rodgers said he wants to learn more about the roots of violence. 

“The very first thing we have to do is understand the ‘why?’” Rodgers said. “Why these victims are victims and why our offenders are offenders. And once we grasp the knowledge as to why, then we formulate our solutions. And part of our solutions will be education and going into the homes and actually trying to figure out how we can better assist these families with wraparound services.”

An over-capacity Bibb County Commission Chamber meant some who came to the first forum of candidates for Sheriff had to sit in the entrance to the room.

An over-capacity Bibb County Commission Chamber meant some who came to the first forum of candidates for sheriff had to sit in the entrance to the room.

Credit: Grant Blankenship / GPB News

Davis touted the CHAMPS drug education program and the Consider the Consequences program at the county jail as efforts already making an early difference. 

But there is evidence that so-called “scared straight” programs like Consider the Consequences, which exposes young people to the frightening aspects of criminal detention, likely increase a young person’s odds of being jailed as an adult.  

Chris Patterson said while the ideas sound good, they have to wait until vacant positions for patrol deputies are filled. 

“You gotta have the manpower to do it,” Patterson said.  “So, first thing I would do is have a meeting with Mr. Mayor and county commissioners and try to come up with a plan to make us the highest-paid law enforcement agency in central Georgia and where we can retain these officers.”

When the candidates were asked if they would arrest a woman who had obtained an abortion, all agreed that while what a woman does with her body is her business, if the law demanded they make an arrest they would be bound to do so.