Rep. Eric Watson announced at a luncheon in Cleveland on Friday that he plans to run for sheriff of Bradley County in next year's election.
He said he will not seek re-election to his House District 22 seat. The district includes Meigs, Polk and part of Bradley County.
He said, "For the past eight years, it’s been a privilege and honor to serve as your voice on Capitol Hill as a member of the House of Representatives. These 8 years have been some of the most fulfilling of my life.
Sometimes the days are long and the load is heavy, but I’m proud to represent you as I love public service.
"I’ve worked hard with my collages on the local level to help bring top industry to our district. So far, General Electric, Wacker Chemie, Amazon and the recommitment from Whirlpool and Olin to stay here and let’s not forget the recent extension of Merck and M&M/Mars here in Bradley County. These companies alone accounts for an estimated payroll of over $200-million-dollars.
"Forbes Magazine ranked our District as 3rd in the nation for economic development. In 2012, we were ranked first in transportation funding for important travel routes and other roadways in the district such as the Hwy 411 project , Hwy 64 expansion, Hwy 30 expansion, Dalton Pike expansion and more.
"In 2008, I was appointed by the Speaker of the House to chair the Judiciary sub-committee and then in 2010, I was selected to chair the full committee, a position I have held for 4 years now.
"Also while serving on the State Government and Calendar of Rules committee I’ve been involved in many work sessions on reducing the budget and recent tax breaks and this has given me vast experience in budgetary issues.
"In 2012, Speaker Beth Harwell appointed me to the Tennessee Criminal Justice Council to focus on law enforcement needs across the state and with my background in law enforcement, this was a perfect fit. I have worked closely with sheriffs and police chiefs across our state to improve public safety for everyone and this year, our state has seen an overall decrease on crime in Tennessee.
"Also in 2012, I was elected to serve as the Co-Chair for the NCSL Law and Criminal Justice committee which is a federal committee that represents all of the states to the federal Government including the White House …. I was invited to the White House as part of a 25-member delegation looking into the problem of Human Trafficking.
"This issue doesn’t receive much media attention, but it’s a terrible abuse impacting a wide range of victims from children to adults. The delegation included people from the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the US Attorney General’s office.
"Crime always finds a victim. And a victim always has family and friends that are affected as well. My heart goes out to anyone who has been victimized by the criminal element. Nobody deserves that, and I’m always interested in ways to help them.
"Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a strategy session hosted by the Department of Human Services and the TBI. Their goal is to coordinate non-profit groups throughout the state to provide victim services where none are available.
"We have passed tougher sentencing guidelines for gang-related crimes and felons in possession of handguns. We passed bills to fight the use and sell of synthetic drugs, against prescription drug abuse, against meth manufacturing.
"For the past two years, I’ve also worked as a facilitator with the University of Tennessee law enforcement innovation center interacting closely with public safety professionals across the state. This opportunity has allowed me to travel across our state and the country, providing training and being exposed to seminars that highlight innovative strategies utilized by public safety agencies.
"In 2012, I had the honor to graduate from the TBI Inaugural State Academy, serving as the class president. This first-of-its-kind Academy is geared toward advancing investigative techniques, science and strategy for the law enforcement community.
"Leadership courses, constitutional law, communications intelligence, financial investigations, and undercover investigations, while detailing a wide range of topics including Fingerprinting, Child Sex Abuse, Prescription Fraud, Death Investigations and Meth Response.
"So my legislative service has been a blend of representing our community’s needs and working to improve our law enforcement response, which in turn makes our communities safer.
"Which is why I’m here today.
"I understand nothing lasts forever and everything has its season. And I feel like my season as a State Representative has neared its completion. I truly believe that my public service, my involvement with the law enforcement community, and my leadership role in different law enforcement capacities has prepared me for this next step in my life.
"That’s why I want to announce here today -- that I will not seek re-election to the Tennessee House of Representatives.
"This is not a decision I made lightly. I’m proud of my accomplishments in Nashville, but I will not seek another term. More and more, I’ve realized we have problems closer to home -- Problems that cannot be properly addressed from Nashville.
"It’s time to take Bradley County back...
"Back to a time when neighborhoods were safe. Back to a time when we could leave our doors unlocked, a time before we’d ever heard of home invasions. Back to a time when law enforcement officers held the respect and trust of the citizens, back to a time where you knew the officer in your community by name and they knew you by name and children dreamed of one day becoming police officers and deputies.
"That’s why, instead of seeking another term in the Tennessee Legislature, I want to announce my intention to seek the office of Bradley County Sheriff.
"I want to see Bradley County become one of the most desirable and safest places in the state to live, to build a career and raise a family. Communities can’t grow if citizens feel unsafe in their homes or worry about the welfare of their families.
"Now, more than ever, Bradley County needs a strong, energized Sheriff who has earned the trust of his deputies and will focus on moving our Sheriff’s Office forward. It is time to provide a stable work environment for those employees, while providing a consistent high level of service to our community.
"With my law enforcement experience on a city, county and state level, I know the operations of Law Enforcement on all levels.
"Our Sheriff’s office will make effective use of resources and will fiscally be responsible and represent the community in the professional manner that they deserve. It is my desire to mold the Sheriff’s office such that it makes a positive impact on today’s community and those of the future.
"Policing in the 21st century requires; better educated officers, advancements in training, leadership with authority and capability, and individuals willing to embrace new challenges.
"Supervisors will be highly proficient in their rank and officers will be more proficient in their work. Employees will demonstrate proficiency in their duties, both as first responders and as supervisors.
"As chairmen of the Judiciary committee in the House of Representatives, I had the honor to work with Governor Bill Haslam on the recent updated state civil service plan.
"I also lead and created a formula that gave our state law enforcement officers up to a 10% salary increase without a tax increase to our citizens because I recognize the value of compensating those who protect our citizens each day.
"While serving in the House, I have overseen state budgets and managed oversight for several state agencies’ budgets. As Sheriff, I will fund priorities while providing services that meet our budgetary restrictions.
"When elected sheriff, I will initiate a proven formula that will help to increase employees’ salaries and encourage the adoption of the 76 percent retirement TCRS payout retirement package instead of the standard 48 percent.
"This has made a positive impact on our State Law Enforcement officers and has reduced the termination rate across the state. When employee’s morale is high, problems seem to disappear and enthusiasm is contagious. That’s the Sheriff’s office that we are going to have.
"We’re into the second decade of the 21st Century. Our deputies, and especially supervisors, should be better prepared than ever before in the past.
"Having participated in and observed nationally recognized training, I realize the importance of ensuring that officers are knowledgeable of current trends in addressing crime.
"When I’m sheriff, we will offer training and educational opportunities for any deputies seeking career advancement.
"For instance, one thing we’re planning for those officers that are seeking to expand their education, is to bring Cleveland State Community College to the BCSO with classes held at the Justice Center, and we will help with some of the costs. I will go out of my way to advance the best and brightest
"With my current and past working relationship with the Bradley County Commission, I will present an effective civil service plan, working to obtain further job protection, and in addition, rank protection for all officers of the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.
"They will be able to perform their responsibilities to the citizens of Bradley County without political interference. This will in turn be beneficial to the citizens. This lack of distraction will allow employees to focus on their duties and can only benefit our citizens.
"I have a plan to work with the County Commission toward a pay classification for all County employees. For example, when a person is hired, the County’s human resource office will assign the employee to the proper pay classification. This will assure each employee will be paid without prejudice, based entirely on their qualifications.
"I believe that your sheriff should be visible and accessible to the community and give to the overall well-being of our communities. I plan to work with all levels of Government, church, schools, and community leaders, to create programs that will be beneficial for our young people.
"Programs that will help mold, motivate, and encourage them to become good leaders. We must not continue to sit idly by, while our young people are left to fend for themselves. Many have come up with their own ideas of how to motivate, and encourage themselves.
"At times this has turned out to be gangs, vandalism, harassment of others, or some other form of criminal activity.
"If some refuse to choose the adverse ways, and turn out to be good constructive citizens, or community leaders, then we rejoice. However, if they choose the latter, we are left to come up with ways to deal with them, such as Juvenile Justice, adult prisons, mental institutions, or welfare programs.
"We must show our young people that we care about them. That we plan to take a more active role in the future of their lives so to help them accomplish the goals they may have set for themselves. Remember, our young people are the future of this county.
"Programs that I feel add value for our youth include:
"The D.A.R.E. program for our school children, which has been eliminated by the current administration will be reinstituted. D.A.R.E. is a well-respected anti-drug program active in 75% of all the schools in this country, and in 43 countries around the world. This program can be provided by the existing School Resource Officers assigned to our schools.
"A new program called Start Smart, The Start Smart Program is an opportunity for new drivers and their parents to clearly understand their responsibilities when a teen starts to drive. Taught by trained law enforcement personnel, it creates awareness of possible consequences, both financial and physical, of distracted or impaired driving, and provides information about collision prevention.
"I will also institute an Explorer program. The Sheriff’s office Explorer Program will provide our young people in the community the opportunity to explore their interests in the field of law enforcement by on the job exposure to the Sheriff’s office different duties.
"The Explorer cadet will complete a course of instruction that will prepare them to enter the Law Enforcement Explorer Academy. The training includes classes in Criminal Law, Patrol Procedures, Report writing and Physical Fitness.
"In addition to providing mentors and role models for aspiring public safety professionals, it can serve as a recruitment tool for law enforcement. Not only will the Explorer participants have an opportunity to learn about us, but give us a chance to evaluate if they would be additions to our staff as they become eligible for employment.
"Seniors deserve our respect and protection too, because they are a link to the past, we should do all we can to assist our senior citizens. I will create a Senior Assist Volunteer Patrol. This will be a program designed to draw upon the experience of volunteers from our community.
"The men and women participating in the program will provide valuable assistance to existing staff as it strives to increase the quality of life in the community.
"This program will be designed for citizens who want to serve their community by promoting safety and service programs such as crime prevention and valuable assistance to the public at the Sheriff’s Office.
"Duties will range from assisting with administrative work, complete daily checks on disabled or home-bound senior citizens, HOME VACATION CHECKS, creating an ALZHEIMER'S DIRECTORY in which a volunteer will come to your residence and take photographs that will assist law enforcement personnel to identify and return the citizen to their home if they wander and become lost.
"The unit will also assist in CHILD FINGERPRINT & ID CARD, ESCORTS, and assist patrol officers in traffic accidents such as directing traffic.
"As I’ve said, crime always finds a victim. And I want to offer support to crime victims and their families. Victims often feel neglected by the criminal justice system, whether from initial police response, the investigative procedures and our court system. As Sheriff, I will form a special Victim Services Unit dedicated to helping victims and their loved ones during a crisis or crime.
"One of the main responsibilities of the Victim Service Unit will be to assist any crime victim in Bradley County. The advocates will work directly with the victim from the time a complaint is filed with law enforcement through the judicial process. Advocates can help victims better understand our system and aid them in their interactions with the different agencies.
"Another important program eliminated by the current administration is the Citizens’ Academy, which I will also reinstate. This is a great opportunity for people to learn about the relationship between law enforcement, the courts, and the rights of private citizens.
"Knowledge is power and I want every private citizen in this county to feel empowered: in their homes, their jobs and their persons.
"As your legislator, I learned quickly the importance of accessibility. I will continue holding Town Hall Meetings at different locations, allowing people to face me personally with questions, suggestions, and concerns. My previous Town Hall Meetings occurred every three months or so and I will continue that practice as your sheriff.
"According to payroll records, the present administration has added a dozen new supervisors to the payroll since September 2010 when they were not needed. Basically we now have a supervisor for every three employees.
"This results in fewer deputies on patrol and cost the tax-payers over a half-million-dollars in salary and benefits. It does nothing to improve operations, increase effectiveness, or reduce crime. In my administration, we will have more officers on the street then supervisors in the office.
"Job opportunities should be based on need and on responsibility. Hiring or promoting for political reward is bad policy and does nothing to help the citizens of Bradley County.
"As your sheriff, I will work toward making sure that department personnel are placed in positions best suited for their training and experience, utilizing these resources to the fullest.
"They will have the assurance that their sheriff shares with them a common goal of providing Bradley County with professional and ethical law enforcement and I will work beside of them to accomplish this.
"When elected as your sheriff, I will put together a Command Staff of experienced, smart, and trustworthy law enforcement professionals -- people dedicated to public service and who shares my vision for Bradley County. And I will NOT go two states away to find them.
"We have too much local talent here in Bradley County and I do pledge to put the best people in place to help us protect our communities.
"Since 2010, Tennessee’s overall crime rates have decreased and even in cities like Chattanooga, the crime rate has decreased, but, since 2010, in Bradley County, crime has increased and the Burglary solve rate is only 22% of cases solved. Seizures from drug arrests are, at an all-time low and the overall arrests has also decreased in the last three years.
"I will place a hard and heavy focus on solving and preventing crime. As Sheriff, I will create the first-ever 24-hour criminal interdiction program where detectives will be on-duty around the clock, the same as road deputies, instead of working 9-to-5. Crime doesn’t punch a clock and victims shouldn’t have to wait till the next day to have follow through on an investigation.
"When I become sheriff, the sheriff’s weekly column won’t be used to blame other elected officials for departmental failures or to complain about my “political detractors.” As your Sheriff, that Sunday column, like everything else connected to the BCSO, will be forthcoming and address issues that impact or benefit the public.
"And I will be accountable. If I make a mistake, I will own up to it, learn from it, and not repeat it. The sheriff should lead by example. The employees of the Sheriff’s Office represent me and I expect them to follow. Decided on the basis of performance, good ideas, and character.
"The question that you may ask is why have I made the decision to run for sheriff and the answer is simple. I have a love for law enforcement and for this county. I am convinced that my experience, training and accomplishments have prepared me to lead this office to better serve you by using its resources to the fullest and by allowing its professional men and women to reach their potential.
"I also officially announce that my father, Rev. Richard Watson has accepted to be my campaign treasurer and please check out our campaign website at ericwatson.net
"I ask you to join me and share the VISION and take Bradley County back."