Tuesday’s law and order public forum had the likes of Henry County Sheriff Josh Frey, Paris Police Chief Ricky Watson, District Attorney Matt Stowe of the 24th Judicial District and State Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, join together in a panel to talk face-to-face with people of the community about the duties and responsibilities each deal with on a daily basis.
Paris Mayor Carlton Gerrell moderated the forum, which lasted more than two hours and attracted about 40 people to the Krider Performing Arts Center to hear what the prominent local figures had to say.
Griffey and Stowe had plenty to say, especially during opening introductions as both gave informative rundowns of their goals and the issues they deal with in reaching them.
“What we’re trying to do is get people to obey the law so the people around you can live in peace and comfort,” said Griffey.
Griffey shared frustrations with Gov. Bill Lee’s “soft” enforcement of sentences for crimes against other people in Tennessee, which he totaled at 17,758 during 2019 and 2020.
“Somebody who breaks into your house and takes your belongings will get out in about ten months, maybe six,” said Griffey.
Griffey transitioned from that sentiment to showing his support for House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s legislation to enforce fully served sentences for sex crimes.
This correlated with Stowe’s subsequent presentation. Stowe said many defendants indicted for aggravated crimes now wind up serving “a good guess, one month for every year that they are sentenced to.”
Stowe mentioned a period of his career that will always stick with him in which defendants in three separate cases were all sentenced to eight years in jail for aggravated burglary and all responded by waving their arms and celebrating in the courtroom.
“I thought they were the ones that were confused, but I realized that I was the one confused,” said Stowe. “It took almost a year for each of them to get to trial and all three got out and back on the street that same day.”
Stowe’s presentation resembled a college lecture in some ways, as he explained the processes of general sessions and circuit courts and what happens after somebody is arrested. He also took time to discuss terminology, such as posting bond, arraignments, plea agreements, convictions and charges.
The narrative always circled back to an appreciation for law officers and all that they do to protect the Paris and Henry County community. Stowe shared that Paris ranks in the top 50 safest cities in Tennessee.
“Don’t ever think you’re gonna get anywhere without the people who are trained to turn an uncontrollable situation into a controllable one,” said Stowe.
TOP COPS TALK
Frey and Watson primarily answered questions from the audience, including one asking if the two’s respective departments have enough officers to protect the community as well as it wants to, to which Frey responded, “No, the sheriff’s department is not adequately staffed but it’s better than it was before I took over.”
“When I took over, the department had three officers per shift to patrol all of Henry County. Henry County’s a big place for three officers to cover all of it,” said Frey.
Frey said he eventually plans to have five officers a shift, but there’s been a drastic decrease in people applying to become officers.
“I can remember a time when there’d be forty applications for an open officer position. Now, we’ll maybe see five applicants, so that’s made things more difficult,” said Frey.
Watson answered the aforementioned question more humorously, saying, “Since two of my bosses are here I’m gonna say yes, but we can never have too much help.”
Everyone on the panel agreed that conquering the issues of drugs and narcotics will do the most to fix crime in the city and county.
Griffey added that there are many people committing crimes who come from terrible home environments and situations that lead them down that path, and that crime would undoubtedly go down if everyone focused on the values of an American family, which ushered a loud round of applause from the audience and other panel members.