Concerns over crime critical in midterms (Pt 2): Election Focus Group

E-Team on crime (Credit: BRITTNEY PHAN for State Affairs)

Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final installment looking at key election issues through the lens of 10 Georgians heading into next week’s midterm election. This story is Part II of this week’s two-parter highlighting what the focus group has to say about crime. Part 1 is here. The opinions expressed in this series are that of the participants and do not reflect the position of this news outlet. Subscribe at STATEAFFAIRS.COM to read all of our election coverage.

Crime occurs once every 2 minutes and 47 seconds in Georgia, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s 2021 Crime  Statistics Summary Report, the latest data available.

Depending on where you live in the state, that stat may be familiar or foreign to you. In any case, crime is a top concern for Georgians — up there with inflation and abortion.

State Affairs’ Election Team members weighed in this week about crime, how it’s changing communities, how it can be solved, and which candidates do and don’t have the right message and mettle to deal with rising crime.

Here’s what five members of the E-Team had to say.

James Flanagan

James Flanagan, 39, Conservative, veteran and veterans’ advocate, married with two children, lives in Peachtree Corners.

How concerned are you about crime in your community?

Being a family man, I am very much a law and order guy. When we first moved to Atlantic Station four years ago, it was a great environment for families. And then three years ago there was a steep rise in crime, to the point where I didn’t feel it was even safe for my wife to take our baby out for a walk. That’s just unacceptable. Once I was running in the morning and a bunch of kids jumped out of a car, tried to grab my cell phone as I was running. There were a number of break-ins in the apartment we were living in, people breaking into cars and gunshots at night. So it was an environment that turned pretty sour pretty quickly after we moved in there. And it just wasn’t a good place for my wife or my child, and we had to get out of there. 

So we voted with our feet and we moved to Peachtree Corners, where the environment is much more family-friendly. But I’m very aware that there are a number of people in Atlanta who just don’t have the resources to move. I have some friends who are still there who say they are running into the same issues. It’s a shame, because there are some nice stores and restaurants there. And it’s one of those things where it feels beyond the quality of life.  If you can’t feel safe, you can’t think about anything else. 

I feel like we have a lot of opportunity in Atlanta and other parts of our state to do a better job of combating crime.

How does/did the issue of crime factor into your voting decisions in the upcoming midterm election?

Crime has a big impact for me. I firmly believe one of the few roles that government has is keeping citizens safe, and that means combating crime on a daily basis. People have a right to feel safe in their homes and their communities. I think Governor Kemp has done a pretty solid job in this area. I know that he’s given raises to law enforcement to help with recruiting.  He’s also created an anti-gang unit in our GBI which is important for a number of reasons.  One is that we have a big human trafficking problem in Georgia and we need to do a good job with prosecuting the bad guys and helping the victims. So yeah, the issue of crime is a big factor in how I vote.  It’s important for me when it comes to our races for local government and for the state house and senate. With crime, probably the biggest impact you can have as a voter is on a local level.   

Ellis Davis

Ellis Davis, 19, political science major at Valdosta State College, Republican, hometown St. Mary’s, in coastal Georgia.

How concerned are you about crime in your community?

In St. Mary’s there’s not a whole lot of crime. We’ll get a few drug busts off the interstate just because I-95 runs through our county, and a lot of people that are transporting drugs come through, and sometimes they get caught here.

Now in Valdosta there is significantly more crime. You hear gunshots every two weeks.  I’ve had friends robbed outside of the Waffle House here. All the gunshots, that was kind of a culture shock to me. I’d never really heard that in my hometown. Now I can see why people want no cash bail. The Georgia Republican Party has been sending out mailers saying that Warnock wants no cash bail and is soft on crime and they’re labeling it a get out of jail free card.  

Crime is a huge problem in the state. That’s why they’re talking about creating Buckhead City.  It’s a huge problem in Atlanta. I don’t go to Atlanta often mainly because of all the traffic, unless I’m traveling. But people in south Georgia think Atlanta and Macon have very bad crime. Some of my friends go to Mercer [University] and they say the crime there is horrible and they’re thinking about transferring to other schools.  

How does /did the issue of crime factor into your voting decisions in the upcoming midterm election?

I’m definitely not going to vote for anyone who I think is soft on crime. Jen Jordan, who’s running for attorney general, said she wouldn’t enforce certain crimes — she believes the heartbeat bill [making abortion illegal after six weeks] is unconstitutional. As the chief prosecutor in the state, she is supposed to enforce the laws, not make the laws, so that troubles me.  

Kemp has the support of law enforcement, and he’s seen as tough on crime and smart on crime.

I really don’t like Stacey Abrams’ comments about the 107 sheriffs. To say that 107 sheriffs want to get Black people off the streets, that’s not the case and no sheriff wants to be represented that way. I would like to think that the sheriff is the most popular elected official in every county. I know in my county — Camden County, Jim Proctor is probably one of the most popular people. He’s one of the greatest and kindest men I’ve ever met. There used to be a lot of fraud in our sheriff’s office. And Sheriff Proctor did a good job of cleaning that up. So the fact that she said that about my sheriff in my hometown, I was offended by that. He’s not trying to get Black people off the streets. We’re a military town. We have all kinds of people who come in from all over the country and from foreign military bases and we treat everyone who comes in with respect, and the sheriff does, too. Anybody that’s in those 107 counties probably took offense to that. It makes her look soft on crime. She seems to be attacking law enforcement. I haven’t heard Warnock say those kinds of things.  

Now this does fall back on the Republicans a little bit. Herschel Walker has kind of exaggerated some of the things he’s done with law enforcement, and that doesn’t make him look the friendliest to law enforcement.  

Overall, I think Republicans seem tougher on crime, they’re endorsed by more sheriffs and that will help a lot come [election day].

Art Gallegos

Art Gallegos, 48, Republican, community organizer with Latinos Conservative Organization; married, 5 children, lives in Gainesville, second generation Mexican-American.

How concerned are you about crime in your community?

Gainesville is a huge hub for fentanyl use and drug-related crimes. We have lots of people overdosing in our hospitals. There are a lot of other drugs coming to our city. People are fed up with it and trying to deal with it. I know families who’ve had members pass away due to fentanyl, and are dealing with family members who have been exposed to these types of drugs. So we need to get a handle on it.  

In Gainesville city, we need a lot more police officers. Our police department is heavily recruiting and hiring. I hear they’re only at like 70 percent capacity. So that tells me they’re trying to recruit and make it diverse but not a lot of people are applying. And some people get hired and trained and then leave for other counties offering better incentives.

Statewide, unfortunately there are counties like Cobb and Fulton where they do have a lot of crime, and the Democrats are not supporting funding to hire more officers. Who wouldn’t want security in their schools, businesses and community? And it gets too political. There are misconceptions about police. If one cop is bad — it’s like anything. You’ll never find a perfect pastor, a perfect church. And you’ll never find a perfect police officer or chief.  

How does/did the issue of crime factor into your voting decisions in the upcoming midterm election?

Crime is probably my second most important issue after the economy. I’ll vote for people who are pro-security, pro-law enforcement, who want to protect our schools, our communities. Gainesville public schools have just hired 10 or 15 officers to be stationed in every school. That’s what we need. And I’m glad our city has taken that measure for our schools. We need to do more officer recruitment for the whole city.

Herschel Walker is very pro law enforcement. I know they say he isn’t part of it. But if you research what he’s said about law enforcement, he’s very supportive. I look at what a candidate has done, what have they said, what have they voted for and against, if they’ve been in office.

Casey Villarreal

Casey Villarreal, 38, Conservative, mother of three children, lives in Cartersville. 

How concerned are you about crime in your community?

It’s not a huge concern. We have a pretty safe area that we live in here in Cartersville, which as a small town doesn’t have a lot of crime, which we take as a huge blessing.

Looking at our state, [we] definitely have had crime on the rise in some of our populated cities. We saw a lot of crime break out … two years ago in Atlanta. And that is a concern for me. We have a right to protest here in America, but it should be done peacefully. So that part, just being able to be respectful when voicing our opinions, and staying within the confines of the law. 

How does the issue of crime factor into your voting decisions in the upcoming midterm election?

The economy and inflation continue to be the most important issues for me. And fortunately, crime doesn’t affect my family that much. But I do want candidates who are supportive of law enforcement and who value our first responders. They put their life on the line for us.  

I can say Kemp has been a good supporter of law enforcement.  

Marion Butler

Marion Butler, 76, retired since 2008 from a 34-year career as a developmental disabilities caretaker; lives in Cuthbert; single, widowed, lifelong Democrat.

How concerned are you about crime in your community?

I’m very concerned. We’ve got a lot of guys standing under the street light, not working, not doing anything. A lot of young adults who say they can’t find a job — we do have high unemployment here in Randolph County. That contributes to a lot of crime — people breaking into homes and cars. I don’t hear about robberies and violent crime here. We do have some fighting.

Now in Albany, where we visit a lot to shop, the crime is more serious. They have a lot of gun violence and violent crimes involving weapons. I also think those young people need a job or something better to do.  

How does/did the issue of crime factor into your voting decisions in the upcoming midterm election?

I’ve seen where all of the guns are laid out when they arrest some people. I think we need to have better control over these guns. We need to be able to check your background and see if you’ve committed crimes before you get to buy a gun. If you’re already a criminal you shouldn’t be allowed to purchase a weapon.

And the police need more money. We need to hire and train more police to protect people and keep the community safe. I mean, their lives are on the line. They need to be paid more.

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Contact Jill Jordan Sieder at [email protected] or on Twitter @journalistajill.

Catch-up with our E-Team:








Concerns over crime critical in midterms for Election Focus Group (Pt. 1)