William “Bill” Oldham currently has the job of Shelby County Sheriff and Bennie L. Cobb, a retired captain from the sheriff’s office, would like to wrest it away from him.
Cobb is the Democratic nominee and Oldham, a Republican, has been the sheriff since the 2010 trouncing of the countywide Democratic slate.
Veterans of law enforcement, both men are confident about their skillsets as crime-fighters. Each believes he has the tools to handle the reins of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department and help keep Shelby County safe.
Voters will decide on Aug. 7.
Bennie L. Cobb: 12 Points of Action to rein in crime
“I’ve spent 30 years serving Memphis and Shelby County,” said Cobb, a native Memphian. “My background and experiences make me uniquely qualified more than most candidates.”
Cobb rose through the ranks first as a Memphis Police Department detention specialist. After transferring to the SCSO, he became a Shelby County correctional deputy and went on to manage key command positions throughout his tenure.
Those positions include managing the Sheriff’s Jail Unit, SWAT Operations, Internal Affairs Bureau, Community Policing Unit, Detective Division, Metro Gang Unit, Entertainment District Unit, Special Response Team, Uniform Patrol Division, Courts & Civil Division, Sex Crimes, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Unit.
“I have an understanding of the inner working of the jails, how the officers work, and how to relate to the inmates when something is going on inside the jail,” said Cobb. “And I have a working knowledge of every division in the sheriff’s office.”
Oldham, said Cobb, is disconnected from the mainstream of Memphis and Shelby County, specifically Memphis.
“They (African Americans) don’t know who he is and they don’t feel he’s providing services for the taxpayers for the tax money that they’re paying.”
Cobb said he’s been assessable and will continue to be assessable if he’s elected sheriff. He said he’d implement his “12 Points of Action,” a platform that he believes would help rein in crime, meet the challenges of 21st century law enforcement and corrections, and keep the citizens of Shelby County safe.
Some of those points of action include proposing state legislation to amend ineffective laws; ensuring accountable management of administrative, law enforcement and jail operations; investing in state-of-the-art data collection and crime analysis tools to identify, assess or predict crime trends and hot spots; utilizing community policing; developing a 3-R (Reading-Remediation-Reform) program for jail inmates; and developing a Prevention-Intervention-Education (P.I.E.) philosophy to reduce recidivism and prevent youth crimes.
Cobb is particularly focused on issues affecting young people, saying he has worked to get an understanding of them. He said there are faith-based initiatives and mentorship programs throughout Shelby County to keep young people from being idle and getting into trouble, adding, “We don’t want to just lock up or warehouse children.”
He said idleness could lead to serious gang activity and unruly behavior in youth if they’re not addressed.
“It’s never going to be alleviated because it starts in the home,” he said. However, he added, interacting with youth could build a mutual foundation of respect that could help deter youth crime.
Cyber crime is another of his concerns. “We have to adapt to the changing trends,” said Cobb, noting that pimps and prostitutes are now trafficking human beings in cyber space and continue to change their game to avoid capture.
“When you see something happening, you want to be proactive,” he said. “One child lost to sexual predators, one child loss to human trafficking, is one too many.”
William “Bill” Oldham: Making a difference in fighting crime
The sheriff’s race in 2010 was a turning point for Oldham.
“There was no fundraising and just a few volunteers,” he said. “I didn’t realize that (then-Sheriff Mark) Luttrell was running for (Shelby County) mayor, so we got a late start in the 2010 election.”
Oldham eventually defeated three contenders in the Republican primary and went on to defeat the Democratic nominee in the general election, Randy Wade, who had defeated three contenders, including Cobb.
Oldham said he is more than prepared to keep his job as sheriff of Shelby County.
“We’ve gained a lot of support,” he said. “We have over 400 volunteers. It’s a diverse group of individuals.”
Oldham is touting his record and leadership as the county’s top law enforcement officer. His goal then and now, he said, has been to “make a difference in our community in fighting crime.”
Here’s why he thinks he should be reelected:
• He’s been a good steward of the taxpayers’ money, saving the county over $8 million in three years.
• Major violent crime has been reduced by 19.8 percent and major property crime by 29 percent, according to Operation Safe Community Crime Trend Report from 2006-20013.
• The SCSO was cited as one of the most decorated/award winning law enforcement agencies in the country.
• The Optimist Clubs of Memphis and Shelby County recognized Oldham as “The Citizen of the Year 2012”
After nearly four years in office, Oldham’s detractors and opponent in this race have hurled criticism at him. He refutes all of it, particularly the claim that he hasn’t been assessable as sheriff in the African-American community.
The department, he pointed out, has availed itself in the community and supported leaders such as the Rev. Lester Baskin of Middle Baptist Church, the Rev. Keith Norman of First Baptist Church-Broad, Dr. Craig Strickland of Hope Presbyterian Church, Charlie Caswell of Rangeline Neighborhood CDC, Frayser Exchange Club, and Man of the House Mentoring.
“I’m not going to worry about what anyone else says,” said Oldham, referring to his opponent. “I know what I’ve done. I know where I’ve been.”
Oldham says he has been inclusive as sheriff and will continue to do so.
“I’ve got a platform and record that I’m running on. I’m not going to lower myself to those situations, to respond to individuals.”
Oldham is mindful of the ills of society that often lead to crime.
“I would never arrest our way out of this situation,” he said. “My desire is to make sure that every kid in this community regardless of their ethnicity, their socio-economic standards have the opportunity to be what they want to be in their life.”
Using non-traditional law enforcement is the key to making a difference in a city prone to violence, no matter where it happens, he said. “Crime that occurs in Westwood impacts people who live in Eads. Crime that occurs in Collierville impacts people who live in Midtown.”
Beginning his career with the Memphis Police Department in 1972, Oldham worked his way through the ranks and eventually retired in 2000 as interim director.
With MPD, he has been a patrol officer, anti-crime detective, lieutenant with the North Precinct, commander of the Beale Street Sub-Station, executive captain of the North Precinct, inspector in charge of the Training Academy, deputy chief of Police Administration, deputy chief of District One Uniform Patrol, and deputy director of Police Operations.
In 2002, Oldham was appointed chief deputy for the SCSO and served until 2010. And in 2011 Gov. Bill Haslam appointed him to the Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control as a Sheriff Representative.
“I truly believe your organization is only good as its people and only as good as its support for the community,” Oldham said. “We’re going to continue to invest in our people. You don’t judge a community by its bricks, mortar and steel, you judge it by the quality of its people.”