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Ward challenges Woodruff in sheriff’s race

There are just 10 days left until the Nov. 3 election, and the Troup County sheriff race is among the local races on the ballot. Two-term Republican incumbent James Woodruff is up for reelection against Democrat Ricky Ward.

Woodruff, first elected in 2012, has worked in TCSO since 1985 in a number of different roles.

Ward is a 31-year Troup County Marshal, and has also worked for the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, Home Depot and as a mail room supervisor for the Wall Street Journal.

The Marshals Office enforces local ordinances and contains service, court services and animal control divisions.

“We all go through the same police academy,” Ward said of his experience and qualifications. “We all go through the same training.”

Woodruff notes accomplishes such as implementing the video visitation system, adding a room for inmates to visit with their children who may be in foster care and adding school resource officers to local schools.

“For a small fee, if they’ve got a camera on their computer and sit in their living room on a Saturday morning, [they can] visit [someone] in jail back here,” Woodruff said, adding that video visits also cut down on contraband entering the jail.

Ward is running on a platform of reform to focus on diverting young people from crime.

“As a community, as a whole, we have not prepared them in high school,” Ward said. “That’s why we end up with so many of them getting caught up in the criminal justice system. And I want to address that.”

Woodruff said he’s already engaged in those efforts and shares those goals.

“It’s easier to raise boys up and keep them off drugs and given them an alternative, than to try to get somebody rehabilitated once their life is messed up,” Woodruff said.

He cited the Sheriff’s Academy for Youth and the Law Enforcement Exploring program, both of which bring kids in to learn about the work of TCSO and law enforcement careers.

“We interact with them all the time at football games, basketball games, so I think the positive interaction and the things that we’re already doing is really making a difference in our community,” Woodruff said.

The SROs, Woodruff said, keep order in schools while also serving as “mentors to these young men and young women that are in high school and middle school,” which makes it more likely a student will feel comfortable coming up and talking to them.

Ward thinks TCSO can do more to connect offenders with local companies and job opportunities, and said he would work with the local high schools to ensure people who have committed crimes get their diploma or GED.

“I want to do more than just enforce the law and hold people accountable. I know that can be my number one priority, but we all we can always do more,” Ward said.

“Somewhere along the line we forgot about rehabilitation.”

Woodruff said he stays involved in the community, pointing to his membership with the LaGrange Lions Club, the Boys and Girls Club of West Georgia, and the board of the Georgia Sheriff’s Youth Homes Pineland Campus.

In a forum held by the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce, Ward said TCSO should have been more prepared for the pandemic.

In June, an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Troup County Jail led to 71 inmates testing positive and a protest outside the jail.

During the outbreak, there were about 316 inmates at the jail.

TCSO worked with the courts to release some inmates who were facing misdemeanor charges, and the population was brought down to about 300.

The sheriff’s office implemented screenings and tested all inmates during the outbreak. TCSO said cases went down to zero in July, and since then only one person has tested positive. TCSO is testing people who exhibit symptoms, Woodruff said. They continue to disinfect new inmates and vehicles that arrive.

Woodruff said when inmates can’t make bond, there is protocol before they get placed in the general population.

“We don’t just send you to the general population in the back,” Woodruff said. “We’ve got a quarantine area where you have to go to 10 to 14 days, so we can continue to watch you.”

Troup County has recently been a Republican stronghold, with Republicans holding the majority of local partisan county and state representative seats. Asked about the challenges of running as a Democrat, Ward said he considers himself an American, first and foremost.

“I wish I didn’t have to qualify as a Democrat or a Republican because to me the sheriff should be nonpartisan,” Ward said. “The sheriff is supposed to represent everybody … I’ve been getting good responses from both sides.”

On the topic of criminal justice reform, Woodruff said TCSO is always watching what changes are made to Georgia laws. Marijuana, for instance, is less of a priority for officers as when Woodruff joined the force 35 years ago.

As far as training goes, Woodruff said TCSO does critical incident training to deal with people who have mental health problems.

Woodruff said recruiting new officers is a challenge.

“People don’t want to come to work in law enforcement and get shot at, put in jail for doing your job, like in Atlanta where those two officers were actually doing their job, and they got locked up for it, get sued, get killed, get spit on,” Woodruff said.

He also cited the pay, but said he thanks the county commission for a recent pay raise over the last few years.

“We thank our commissioners, we’ve gotten a good pay raise over the last year or so,” he said. Woodruff said there are only a few vacancies right now for TCSO.

Woodruff said he tries to always remember who put him in office.

“I believe you always have to keep a servant’s heart in mind, and not let it be all about me,” Woodruff said. “It’s all about them, it’s all about serving them.”

Ward thanked supporters and asked for their support.

“I would just like to say thank you to the citizens of LaGrange, Troup County, West Point and Hogansville … for their vote, their support, their money, and everything,” Ward said.