Eight years ago we assembled a new team. We restructured the way the Sheriff's Office had conducted operations for decades - creating a premier 21st century law enforcement agency that all citizens can be proud of and most importantly, count on. We changed patrol operations, restored the jail to a full time facility and have improved the way our Civil Services are provided.
As Sheriff, I also found myself in a role that I had not imagined - as a defender of your constitutional rights. I had always taken my civil liberties for granted like all of you, but in 2016 I led a majority of Sheriff’s in the State to push back against out of state anti-gun groups who were trying to push for more stringent gun control laws. This led me several times to Augusta to speak openly in defense of your civil rights at the state house before committees and at public rallies. This happened again in 2018 under a new legislature that was pushing for the same type of controls we defended against in 2016.
In 2020 we find ourselves again in a special situation. The COVID 19 pandemic saw government entities all over the country enacting executive orders that have limited movement of individuals and initially insinuated that you could not drive around unless it was essential to do so. Many people started to panic and were in fear of a “police state” being created. In an effort to calm the fears of the public, I released a statement that said:
“The Sheriff’s Office will not purposefully go out and stop vehicles because they are on the road or stop and ask why people are out and about. To do so puts our officers at risk.”
I went on to ask folks to use common sense and to follow the current CDC guidelines. I reassured our citizens that the Sheriff’s Office was not going to violate the basic civil rights of the individual. My thought process was (and still is) that our citizens actually do take the threat of pandemic seriously, but do not need government forcing their hand. This simple statement exploded nationwide and led to several interviews across the country through various media outlets.
The future holds many challenges before us, whether there be another pandemic, economic catastrophe or a natural disaster. If and when these events do occur, as your Sheriff - it is my job not only to maintain public safety, but to also protect your civil liberties against any overreach.