District Attorney Natalie Paine has signed a pledge not to “defund the police” while Jared Williams, her opponent Nov. 3, responded that cutting funds for sheriff’s offices isn’t allowed under Georgia law.
After a number of deaths of Black men at the hands of police and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery this year, many protesters nationwide are demanding governments “defund the police” by shifting resources to other social services.
Paine said signing the “police pledge” shows her longstanding support for law enforcement. The Heritage Action pledge is to oppose any bill, resolution or movement to defund the police. Heritage Action is a sister organization of the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation.
“There’s a movement afoot to not only disrespect and undermine our men and women in uniform, but to actually defund police departments and law enforcement agencies across the country,” said Paine, a Republican. “This radical agenda is absolutely insane and must be stopped.”
Williams, a Democrat, said Paine’s pledge is misguided because Georgia sheriff’s offices, including the three in the circuit’s Burke, Columbia and Richmond counties, are already protected from funding cuts.
“The district attorney should have enough experience and understanding of the law to know that sheriffs are constitutional officers, and therefore neither the commission nor the DA has any authority to defund them,” he said.
While it’s not permitted, Williams said he doesn’t support cutting the sheriffs’ or other police funding.
Williams said as an assistant district attorney he learned “no one wants to live in a world where police do not have proper funding to protect our community.”
Paine responded that at a time when more and more officers are leaving the profession, they need to know the government supports them.
“It is critical for public safety to know exactly where their district attorney, the chief law enforcement officer of the circuit, stands on supporting the police,” she said.
“It is alarming that someone running for district attorney fails to see the importance of supporting law enforcement,” Paine said.
Williams said what reformers actually want is to “adequately fund other programs like mental health and family services, so we can stop asking so much of our police force who already have the tremendous burden of keeping us safe.”
Until consolidation in 1996, Augusta had a police department in addition to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
Since then, the sheriff’s office is the only agency that polices Augusta-Richmond County outside of the Richmond County marshal, who has limited powers; two tiny police departments in Hephzibah and Blythe; and school system and university police.
Columbia County has its sheriff’s office in addition to the smaller Grovetown and Harlem police departments, while Burke County has the sheriff’s office as well as the Waynesboro Police Department in the county seat.
The Augusta Commission and other county governments have had no discussions about cutting law enforcement budgets, which make up the majority of their general fund expenses.
It could happen in a coastal Georgia county, however. Voters in Glynn County get to weigh in on defunding the county police department in a Nov. 3 nonbinding referendum. Glynn is where officers allegedly obscured an investigation into the fatal shooting of Arbery in February. If voters approve, the assets of the department could be turned over to the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office.