Sheriff Candidates Tough on Opioids, Support Change
The politically charged 2018 election cycle may have started months ago, but Tuesday night's Knox County Sheriff candidate forum was the first time campaign signs met campaign shirts and two candidates went back and forth debating in earnest.
The crowd for Lee Tramel and Tom Spangler filled the public meeting room of the still-new Knoxville Public Works Center. Early voting to determine who will replace term-limited Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones begins in two weeks, April 11.
The two candidates, who say they are friends, respectfully answered questions, more aw-shucks approach than rivals.Opioid crisis demands actionBoth men stressed the importance of getting a grip on the opioid epidemic that is plaguing the county and region. Tramel said, if elected, it would be his No. 1 priority and anyone who says differently is out of touch.For the county to really get a handle on the issue could take 10 years or more, he said. He also pointed to his work combatting opioids for the past decade.“I’m telling you, it effects every single thing we do today in every aspect of our agency, everything,” he said. “It’s killing people at alarming rates … it’s destroying families, it’s hurting our community, it’s hurting our business community and we have to make that a priority.”Spangler focused his attention to cracking down on dealers and getting through to legislators to deal with the issue on multiple ends.“Are you going to continue to let manufacturers and doctors … get away with what they’re doing?” he asked. Change is coming. The candidates were asked what they would change, if elected and their answers differed widely. Spangler said he would find a way to put more boots on the ground “on the street and in schools” to keep up with the county’s growth. He said the county has to have people able to answer the call when it’s made.“It’s paramount that we protect our community. It’s paramount that we have the safety in our community we deserve … we do that anyway, so we have got to build upon that,” he said. Tramel said he would change how the county houses inmates since the county is running out of room to put them. He said he has a plan that would get more space for the county but not give details for his plan.“That’s the No. 1 issue the (next) sheriff is going to face because they (inmates) are sleeping on the floors out east and it’s not safe for the inmates and it’s not safe for employees that work there,” he said. Both candidates said they would support and keep the county a part of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) program. The county became the only current body in the state to be admitted into the program last summer.The program deputizes local law enforcement officials to act on behalf of and in place of federal immigration authorities in exchange for training and funding.Once someone has been arrested on federal, state or local charges, ICE will flag the individual for removal and decide to request a detainer, or hold, on the person. The 287(g) program allows local law enforcement to decide who goes into deportation proceedings. A federal immigration judge ultimately decides who will be deported. ICE places detainers on undocumented immigrants who have been arrested on local criminal charges and for whom ICE has probable cause to believe should be removed from the country.Both men said immigrants don’t have to be concerned unless they are doing something wrong that would cause them to be arrested and are here illegally.“I have a great deal of empathy for people coming to this country to better themselves and their family, I really do,” Tramel said. “But if you break the law and you’re here illegally this program will touch you. If you don’t break the law and you’re here illegally this program will not touch you.” He placed the load of the blame on Congress to pass immigration reform to help solve the issue.Spangler said the program is designed to protect the community. He agreed with Tramel and said immigrants don’t have to be concerned because deputies don’t profile and round people up.“You have no fear. Because as we mentioned earlier, (deputies) aren’t out profiling … just because you look different doesn’t mean somebody’s going to come up to you and ask you if you’re here illegally. No, it’s not going to happen.”Voting informationThe final day to register to vote before the election is April 2. Early voting begins April 11. The county primary Election Day is May 1, but since there is no Democrat competitor the primary serves as the be-all-end-all.Tuesday's event was put on by the League of Women Voters of Knoxville/Knox County and Alpha Mu Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha.