A third candidate has entered the race for Muscogee County sheriff

After three tries at gaining the office, former Columbus police officer Mark LaJoye has announced his intention to run next year for the sheriff of Muscogee County.

He will run against incumbent Donna Tompkins and the current Muscogee marshal, Greg Countryman.

LaJoye, 59, worked at the Columbus Police Department as a patrol officer from 1992 to 2005, was a member of the SWAT team, and was a counselor for the Conditional Discharge program.

He plans to retire from the Army Reserves in March 2020, wrapping up a 40-year military career that started in 1979 when he joined as an active-duty soldier. He went into government contracting when he left the CPD in 2005.

LaJoye previously ran for sheriff in 2012 as the Republican nominee against incumbent Sheriff John Darr, who won the general election with 76% of the vote.

LaJoye was also the Republican nominee for sheriff in the 2016 election, which Tompkins won, and was a write-in candidate for sheriff in 2008, but received less than half a percent of the vote.

“A lot of people look at that as not being successful, but the thing that I look at is perseverance,” LaJoye said of his failed campaigns. “I’ll run for this position until I get elected.”

LaJoye said his priorities, if elected, include implementing a gang-reduction strategy and working with Columbus Council to secure raises for the sheriff’s deputies in hopes of attracting and retaining employees.

“We have a serious crime problem in Columbus related to drugs and gangs,” he said. “I have an initiative that’s a seven-step plan. No candidate, no other law enforcement official has any kind of resolution up to this point on how to go forward to try to reduce some of the serious gang problems that we’ve got.”

LaJoye described the initiative as a community-based program that involves law enforcement, clergy, community leaders and former gang members. Targeting high-crime areas, establishing an anonymous tip line, and enhancing penalties for possessing firearms during the commission of felonies are steps included in the program.

“Obviously we would need more law enforcement in the streets,” he said. “At any given time, the Columbus Police Department is between 70 and 100 short. The sheriff’s department is critically low, it doesn’t have enough employees. There’s only three law enforcement agencies, and the marshal’s department is not in the prevention role so much as the police department and the sheriff’s office is.”

He also has plans to address those critical vacancies: Tompkins said last week she was down around 17 employees.

LaJoye said he would ask for raises for the sheriff’s deputies: a 5% raise immediately and a 5% incremental raise for the next three years.

“It would help us recruit people from the outside,” he said, “people from Fort Benning, soldiers that want to come here and work. “

In addition, LaJoye said he wants to address overcrowding in the Muscogee County jail by bringing back the Conditional Discharge program.

He also said he would support consolidation of the offices of the sheriff and marshal, if it did not cost a lot of money and the transition was smooth.

“We know the sheriff’s department has the same skills and abilities to do that job,” he said. “Absorbing the deputies of the marshal’s office would certainly help benefit the shortages we have at the other agencies.”

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Allie Dean is the Columbus city government and accountability reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer, and also writes about new restaurants, developments and issues important to readers in the Chattahoochee Valley. She’s a graduate of the University of Georgia.