Candidates for the Pickens County Sheriff’s seat challenged long-time Sheriff David Stone, saying that recent statistics show that crime is increasing in the county and that change is needed.
Current Sheriff David Stone, along with candidates Billy Looper and Rick Clark were in attendance at a forum Monday hosted by the Pickens County Taxpayers Association. Two other candidates for the office, Kerry Avery and Stan Whitten were not present.
Both Clark and Looper said they were alarmed by the statistics.
“From 2000 to 2010 we’ve had such dramatic crime increases—62% in violent crime, 68% in assault, and 80% in burglary. Those type of things are happening here in Pickens County,” said Clark. “If our population really explodes we’ll be in trouble. We’ve had these dramatic crime increases and we’re not going to stay the safest county if we don’t get on this like we should.”
“We’ve got to get back out there and have a coordinated way to get after some thugs,” said Clark.
Looper said narcotics are a driving factor behind the crime in the County.
“I don’t think a population increase is always indicative of a crime increase,” said Looper. “I think that’s why it is important to restructure the Sheriff’s office and increase service levels. I think the majority of our crime is narcotics driven. We can take existing resources and give help to narcotics, but we’re also going to have to rely on community partnerships.”
Looper emphasized the key to lowering crime rates was gaining the trust of Pickens County residents.
“Once we get trust from the communities, we’re going to get an increase in crime, and the reason is people are going to trust us and report crimes more,” said Looper.
While the other two candidates say crime increases are a concern, Stone, who has served as Sheriff since 1969, said the statistics are nothing to worry about, arguing that a population increase can account for the upswing in criminal activity.
“Still I say the violent crime rates and murders have been down,” said Stone. “They are some of the lowest in the state and down next to the bottom, so we can see we’re getting something done. Violent crime is not that big in Pickens County. We’ve been blessed and hope to keep it that way.”
While Stone and the two challengers disagreed on the crime rate, they did agree on the issue of gun control.
“We have enough restrictions on weapons, and the only (people) that have committed crimes are the ones that shouldn’t have them,” said Stone.
Clark added that there are already plenty of regulations.
“I’m pretty well in favor of the Second Amendment,” said Clark. “I thought a ladies firearm class (recently), and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Thank goodness they have kind of stopped over regulating guns. We’ve got a lot more work to do, but we are regaining some of our second amendment rights that were eroding.”
Looper quoted 2008 presidential candidate John McCain when trying to emphasize his stance on gun rights.
“I go back to what John McCain said when talking about gun regulation when he said, ‘enforce the laws we already have,’” said Looper. “I think we have plenty of gun laws and we don’t need any further regulation. I am all for gun ownership for those that can legally own guns.”