Top Georgia law enforcement officials and groups are expressing "serious concern" with Jon Ossoff's and Raphael Warnock's Senate bids, claiming that the pair of Democrats will push to defund police and hinder officers' ability to serve.
Ossoff and Warnock have faced criticism over a number of anti-police comments. Ossoff in June expressed the need to hold "entire departments accountable," arguing that police funding "has to be … on the line" if officers violate his proposed use-of-force rules. And in a series of 2015 sermons, Warnock accused police of operating with a "gangster and thug" mentality, adding that he was not surprised to see officers act like "bullies." Georgia Fraternal Order of Police secretary Steven Gaynor told the Washington Free Beacon that the Senate hopefuls have done little to reassure law enforcement of their support.
"We really need law enforcement. We need them to be out there to protect our citizens," Gaynor said. "So we have a serious concern over the defunding push and the statements being made from both candidates."
The Georgia Democrats have scrambled to distance themselves from the defund police movement in the wake of Democratic congressional losses in November. Top party officials—including President-elect Joe Biden—warn activists that the call to "change policing" could alienate Peach State voters. Many top law enforcement officials across the state, however, have found the Democrats' rhetorical shift unconvincing. During a Tuesday press conference, a group of Georgia sheriffs accused Ossoff and Warnock of working to "make it easier for the criminal element."
"The safety of this entire country is at stake," Gwinnett County sheriff Butch Conway said. "All we've heard for months from the Democratic Party is 'defund the police.' I understand Joe Biden's talking the other way now, not wanting to talk about defunding the police until after this election, but that doesn't change anything."
Ossoff did not return a request for comment. Warnock campaign spokesman Terrence Clark told the Free Beacon that Warnock does not support defunding police and accused his Republican opponent—Sen. Kelly Loeffler—of "attacking Reverend Warnock with lies to distract from her record."
Conway also argued that Ossoff would make communities less safe due to his refusal to enforce immigration laws at the local level. Ossoff in June appeared to endorse so-called sanctuary cities, saying that local police should not enforce federal immigration law as it weakens the "bonds of trust between local law enforcement and local communities." Conway denounced the position, noting that his department has worked with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to identify more than 800 illegal immigrants housed in county jail during his tenure. The cooperation has allowed the county to avoid "turning criminals back into the community that shouldn't be in the country to begin with," according to Conway.
"Many of those inmates had been arrested more than one time, some many times," Conway said. "The cost to process an inmate is high—it has saved millions of dollars for Gwinnett."
Cherokee County sheriff Frank Reynolds and Walton County sheriff Joe Chapman also attended Tuesday's press conference. Chapman accused Ossoff and Warnock of working to "change the way we live" and "make it harder" for police to keep Georgia communities safe.
In total, at least 93 Georgia sheriffs have endorsed Ossoff's opponent, Republican senator David Perdue. The state's Fraternal Order of Police has also endorsed both Perdue and Loeffler. Ossoff's and Warnock's campaign sites, meanwhile, show no endorsements from state police officials.
Ossoff and Warnock will face Perdue and Loeffler, respectively, on Jan. 5. Early voting in the state is already underway.
Updated 8:32 a.m.: This article was updated with comment from the Warnock campaign.