Tuesday's Republican primary for sheriff is one of the most hotly contested campaigns in recent county history as each candidate argues he has the right formula for slowing Stafford's rising crime rate.
G.W. "Jerry" Tolson says he represents a change in law enforcement style, while Charles Jett has vowed to provide stability. Both trumpet some of the same solutions.
As the pace of population growth has accelerated, so have burglaries, robberies and drunken driving, among other crimes. Tolson sees the problem as an internal one and has accused the Sheriff's Department of not reacting quickly to calls and mismanaging its resources. Jett, on the other hand, thinks that the department is doing a good job and that its resources have not kept pace with growth.
In that way, Jett, a Sheriff's Department captain and a high-profile member of the county's force, has positioned himself as a kind of incumbent, pointing to the agency's successes and his role in them. He has been endorsed by the retiring sheriff, Ralph Williams, as well as by 139 Stafford deputies who took out an endorsement ad.
"I would bring stability," said Jett, 40. "It would be a hard transition for anyone to come in. When you compare my training record and education to Tolson, it's far beyond anything he has."
Specifically, Jett referred to his work at several law enforcement schools, including the FBI Academy, and his familiarity with the department's $8 million budget.
Tolson, for his part, is happy to acknowledge that Jett epitomizes the current department, mainly because he thinks it needs to be revamped. Thus, he is trying to run as the outsider candidate -- a somewhat tricky proposition considering Tolson was a member of the Stafford force until he resigned to challenge Williams in 1995 in a race he lost.
"The citizens of Stafford are not happy with the service being provided," said Tolson, 40. "It has to do with [the police] being arrogant, not responsive to complaints, not showing the feeling that they really care."
Tolson has received the endorsement of the International Union of Police Associations, an 80,000 member group. Additionally, Tolson is counting on his four-year membership in the Republican Party to help sway voters; Jett joined the party earlier this year.
Both candidates see improved community relations as the key to a better police department.
"We have to increase our partnership with the community," Jett said. "We're not large enough to take on the challenges ourself. We have to make sure people understand they play a very, very large role in keeping the commitment to safety here in Stafford."
For example, policing roads has become a burdensome task as the county has grown, Jett said, and he plans to call on residents for help in cracking down on traffic violations.
Tolson said he would like to establish more community police substations, particularly in the southern half of the county. He said he would provide faster police response times, hold town meetings and "create a user-friendly sheriff's office."
Because of the spirited, combative campaign, Republican officials expect as many 16,000 voters to turn out Tuesday, about 40 percent of the party's constituents and far more than any previous primary.
Tuesday's winner will face independent Chuck Feldbush in the fall. Whoever prevails in the primary will carry a huge advantage in the general election in the overwhelmingly Republican county.
"They're both top-drawer candidates," said John Van Hoy, chairman of Stafford's Republican Party. "The feeling is whoever wins the nomination will win in November."