The Democratic field of candidates running for Gwinnett County sheriff next year grew a little bigger Thursday.
Ben Haynes, who is a criminal investigator in the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office, announced he will run for the office next year during a kickoff event at the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse. Haynes is at least the third Democrat to announce plans to run for the office in 2020, joining Curtis Clemons and Keybo Taylor in the race.
It has been unclear if Sheriff Butch Conway, the Republican who has held the office for nearly a quarter of a century, will run for another term next year.
“It (is) time for the county to progress forward,” Haynes said of his reason for running. “We’ve had the current sheriff since 1996 and I wanted to bring some changes to the office that I think will benefit all of the county.
“I figured this was probably the best time for me and my family to do it. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for awhile.”
Haynes has worked in law enforcement for 25 years, starting as a Dade County sheriff’s deputy in 1994. He moved from that job to a position as a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation from 2000 until 2011, when he joined the Lilburn Police Department as a captain.
He joined the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office in 2013.
Haynes said he would like to scale back use of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) program, one of the hot-button topics that could prove to be a major issue in next year’s sheriff’s race, so that it is only used for major felony offenses rather than any arrest, including misdemeanors.
There has been a lot of debate in Gwinnett in recent months about whether the Sheriff’s Office should continue participating in the 287(g) program, where the sheriff’s office holds undocumented residents who are arrested for any offense until they can be turned over to ICE agents.
“You’ve got, to one side (of the debate), where it is for everything and then the other side where it is for nothing at all,” Haynes said. “I believe there is a middle ground, after speaking with several different people in the county that agree with me, that if we limit it to just major felony arrests ... that that is something that is more acceptable to everyone.”
Haynes said the 287(g) issue is likely to be a major issue in the 2020 sheriff’s race because of the county’s diversity.
“It affects so many communities here in the county,” he said. “I believe 287(g) touches every member of our county in one way or the other.”
Haynes said savings that can be realized by curtailing use of the 287(g) program can be used to benefit other efforts undertaken by the office. That includes programs he’d like to take on if he is elected.
Such programs include forming a sex trafficking task force with Gwinnett County police and the county’s municipal police departments; expanding mental health services available in the jail; and providing an education program in the jail where inmates who are awaiting trial can work on earning a regular high school diploma, rather than just a general education diploma, also known as a GED.
Haynes also said he would like to make fiscal changes at the Sheriff’s Office, including scaling back use of the 287(g) program and revising how it handles money at the jail, including asset forfeiture funds.
“Everything I do, in spending money, I realize it’s not my money that I’m going to be spending,” he said. “It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the taxpayers and I want to make sure that every penny is spent and accounted for the right way.”