Low pay for deputies, alleged corruption within the force and a rundown jail were the main criticisms from the two candidates challenging incumbent Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards in the Oct. 12 primary.

Edwards, a Democrat, is facing longtime ballot opponent Arden Wells, a Republican, and recently-retired sheriff’s deputy Cameron Crockett, also a Republican, as the incumbent seeks his fifth term in office.

Edwards, the brother of Gov. John Bel Edwards, has held his seat since 2004, each election cycle gaining a strong lead over opponents. In 2015, Edwards took 65 percent of the vote. In 2011, he garnered as much as 80 percent.

He touts a huge growth in the department’s fund balance, which he says has ballooned from roughly $400,000 in 2004 when he took office to $8 million the 2018-19 fiscal year. He said that increase largely came from the jail, fines and civil seized property costs.

Most of the pros Edwards lists for his four-term achievement are financial or administrative, including the digitalization of record-keeping, updated training for the department and a modernized dispatch system. The shortfalls he sees, though, mirror those of his opponents: lesser pay than surrounding agencies offer, a need for more patrol deputies and finding more funding.

Crockett, who retired from TPSO in July after a 33-year law enforcement career, said his call to action was corruption within the department that he believes is leading to losing many employees and a jail he says is in “really bad shape."

Crockett had worked for TPSO for 13 years of his career, rotating through the jail, patrol and detective divisions in that time.

He said he’s seen countless deputies working overtime because they’re short-staffed and getting burned out.

“I’ve always wanted to run for sheriff, and I was going to run against (Edwards) a different time but I don’t believe in running against my boss so I didn’t,” Crockett said. “We lose a lot of people because of the pay and the supervision, so I just want to correct that problem by having an open door policy. I’m a police officer and have been all my life; that’s what I want to do.”

Wells, who was a lawyer in Tangipahoa Parish until he was disbarred in 2007, has run against Edwards multiple times, rarely gaining more than 10 percent of the vote each time. This time, though, Wells says he’s getting more public input from residents wanting to see a change.

He said as sheriff, he would implement an internal affairs division, add body cameras and dashboard cameras and increase training opportunities as a draw for deputies to stay within TPSO.

“This department is corrupt and I’m going to clean it up, strengthen it and turn it into a professional agency instead of a home for retired officers or deputies from elsewhere,” he said.

Wells also zeroed in on the jail, noting several deaths in custody he said were not investigated thoroughly. “The jail has become a death house and a source of controversy,” he said.

Despite the criticisms on his department, Edwards maintains he’s the best one for the job. He said he’ll need to find ways to put more patrol deputies on the road and find funding for deputy raises.

“Going forward we have to fund a way to be able to put some more patrol deputies on the road and that’s not going to be easy, but we have more people in the parish and more calls for service than ever,” he said.

Early voting for the Oct. 12 primary is Sept. 28-Oct. 5, excluding Sept. 29. Should none of the candidates secure more than 50 percent of the vote then, the race will go to a runoff between the top two candidates Nov. 16.

Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.