Friday May 24th, 2024 10:40AM

Election preview: Couch faces primary challenge from Hammock in Hall sheriff's race

By Caleb Hutchins Assistant News Director

As the May 21 primary election approaches, Hall County's sheriff is facing a Republican challenger in his re-election bid.

Gerald Couch has served as sheriff for a dozen years after first being elected to the position in 2012. In 2024, however, Couch is facing two challengers in his re-election bid, including from Republican Jim Hammock.

The winner of the primary will face Lula Democrat Jerry Ramos in the November general election.

Hammock has prior law enforcement experience with the NCIS and the FBI and has lived in Hall County for the past 10 years. He said frustrations that he and others have had with the sheriff's office led to him entering the race.

"I was talking to a lot of people and learned about some of the stuff going on in the sheriff's office that people may not be aware of," Hammock said. "I could sit on the bench and watch everything going on, or I could get into the arena, and I chose to get into the arena to try to make a difference here in Hall County."

Hammock cited FBI crime rates, which have shown rising numbers in several categories in Hall County since 2013. Couch, however, argued that those numbers don't accurately reflect the crime trends in the county.

"Say someone broke into a house and they committed an assault and a rape. You would have a burglary, you would have an aggravated assault, you would have a kidnapping charge, probably, and you would have a rape charge. The FBI used to only count that rape charge, being the most serious, and those underlying charges they did not include," Couch said. "Since 2019, they count all of those charges, so it makes it look like we've had a crime spike when, actually, we didn't. It's just a different way of calculating those numbers...we rely on our local numbers here to be more exact, and I can tell you that we have had a 32% reduction in crime since 2012."

Hammock said there are several changes he would like to make if elected sheriff.

"I want to reconstitute the (multi-agency narcotics squad) unit, join the Appalachian Regional Drug Task Force, beef up and get back onto the Safe Streets Task Force, because I anticipate we're going to have a lot of gang issues popping up here shortly," Hammock said. "I would like to create a citizens advisory board. They haven't had one here before, but I would love to have that because that's a way of connecting with the community and finding out first-hand from them what are the issues."

Couch, who has worked in law enforcement in Hall County since 1981 including a stint with the Gainesville Police Department, touted improvements the sheriff's office has seen since his election 12 years ago.

"We had an antiquated records management system that could not be built out any longer, so we've got a new records management system. We have a new jail management system. Now we have an intelligence unit and a crime analysis system that is cutting-edge," Couch said. "Now we have online crime reporting, another option for citizens to call in and report crimes."

Couch said as Hall County's population continues to grow, now over 200,000 people according to the 2020 U.S. Census, maintaining staffing at the sheriff's office will continue to be a priority moving forward.

"The defund the police movement did not really work to defund the police, but it did demoralize a lot of those individuals that were in the profession, and it also prevented a lot of folks getting into it," Couch said. "Now, actually, I'm seeing a turnaround, at least on the local level. We're attracting some very good candidates."

Hammock said he hopes to put an emphasis on training if elected.

"I want to send guys and women, the lieutenants and above, to the FBI National Academy. The sergeants, I want to send to the Georgia Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar, and then also have a mentorship program," Hammock said. "That's what I'm all about is trying to build a team."

Early voting for the May 21 primary starts Monday.

To hear more from Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch and Republican candidate Jim Hammock, click play on the audio above.

  • Associated Categories: Homepage, Election 2024
  • Associated Tags: hall county, hall county sheriff's office, Election
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