If elected Bulloch County’s next sheriff, Noel Brown says, accountability and accessibility will be words that govern how he does the job.
Brown, currently a sergeant who heads the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office civil and warrants section, would also seek increased pay and benefits for the department’s employees, especially road deputies, to attract and keep them, he said in an interview this week. To control costs, he wants to eliminate overtime pay for personnel at the rank of captain and above by putting them on straight salary but does not advocate eliminating overtime for lower ranks.
“What I’ve found out from running and being accessible is how accountable you need to be, but I’ve pretty well operated that way the whole time I’ve been doing this job. ...,” Brown said. “In our job we’re accessible all the way from the rank of deputy up.”
Brown, 46, marked his 23rd anniversary in law enforcement this week. After graduating from Portal High School in 1988, he served in the Air Force 1989-1993. He went to England and to Saudi Arabia, where he fueled planes, helping keep A-10 Thunderbolts flying during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
After being honorably discharged, he completed basic law enforcement training at what was then Armstrong State College. Brown’s first police job was with the Georgia Southern University Police Department, where he started as a patrol officer in the fall of 1993 and left as a corporal in July 1998.
He joined the Sheriff’s Office as a road patrol deputy Aug. 3, 1998. Brown received field training officer certification in 2002 and was promoted to corporal and assistant shift supervisor in 2006.
In 2011 Brown was assigned to the department’s Court Services Division, working at the courthouse. In 2012, he was transferred to that division’s civil and warrants section.
In 2015, Brown was promoted to sergeant over the section, where his supervisor is Capt. Keith Stone, the Court Services Division commander. Stone is one of five captains, each of whom heads a division. The other divisions are Jail, Road Patrol, Criminal Investigations and Crime Suppression.
The civil and warrants section consists of Brown and one other officer. Often on the road obtaining and serving various legal papers and sometimes involved in things such as removing individuals from their homes under protective orders, they do work that was once assigned to a separate division with five employees, Brown observed.
He is also certified by the state to work as a jailer. While a road deputy he filled in as a jailer at one period, for weeks at a time, while some new jail employees were training for their certification, he said.
In the past Brown and other deputies did much of their own investigatory work, on minor felonies as well as misdemeanors, and prepared cases to go the district attorney and grand jury, he said. After he joined the department, it had first one and then two investigators, he noted.
So, although never officially a jailer or an investigator, Brown touts broad experience in what the department does.
“I think I made the quote one time that I am what a sheriff is,” he said.
In regard to accountability and accessibility, Brown vows to instill in officers that reports should be both complete and concise and that every citizen wants and deserves follow-up.
“In other words, he shouldn’t have to call me,” Brown said. “You know what, we have a high volume, there’s a lot of stuff going on in the county, now we’ve grown, from when I started in ’93 and where we’re at now. I still say … if you’re putting your heart and soul into something, you’re there for the people.”
Brown secured the Republican nomination for sheriff with 56.9 percent of the votes over Chief Deputy Jared Akins in the May 24 Republican primary. But Keith Howard meanwhile ran unopposed in the Democratic Party primary, so now voters will choose between Brown and Howard in the Nov. 8 general election.
Hiring and pay
The department’s staffing, and reported high levels of overtime with resulting pay at time-and-a-half rates, were issues discussed during the primary. Brown talked about these again this week.
Based on the numbers listed separately for the five divisions in the current county budget, the sheriff is authorized to have the equivalent of 130 full-time employees. Brown didn’t cite this, but he said the department has lost some officers that it has not replaced.
The current salaries, he said, are too low to compete with counties such as Effingham.
“We’re losing people, and I’m not saying that we’ve got to go out and hire a hundred head, but we’ve got to revamp, and look at the numbers of people, especially on our first line of defense, which is our road patrol, and to enhance that, you have to have better benefits and salary, something that’s attractive,” Brown said.
All five divisions have fewer officers than they need, and the road patrol and jail have the greatest shortages, he said.
“You’re looking at 20 something-odd people that we’re missing,” Brown said. “When you have people leave and you don’t replace them, and we were understaffed to begin with, then we’re definitely under-understaffed when we haven’t replaced people. I know it takes money to do that.”
But filling vacancies would not add costs to what is already budgeted, he added.
Brown’s strategy for controlling overtime includes hiring more people and expanding the number of salaried positions not eligible for overtime.
Currently, the sheriff, as an elected official, is the one officer in the department on a straight salary. Brown wants to make the five captains’ and the one chief deputy’s jobs salaried positions as well.
“That’s seven people. They should be on salary,” Brown said. “From a lieutenant down should still get overtime. That’s your working core. They’re the ones out there beating those late hours, and they’re the ones that need to be there.”
The captains and chief deputy would instead receive compensatory time off when they work unusual hours, he said. Brown admitted that some do not like this idea, but he said that “if you get their money right” the top officers should want to go home at the end of the day.
He wants to add some personnel specifically to the Sheriff’s Targeted Enforcement Patrols, or STEP, unit. He said this will allow STEP to better augment the work of the Crime Suppression Team, or CRT, an interagency squad fielded by the Sheriff’s Office, the Statesboro Police Department and Georgia Southern University Public Safety aimed especially at anti-drug policing.
“There’s a little bit of propaganda out there, but I’ll clarify that Noel Brown is going to keep that intact, like I’ve said many, many times,” he said. “They’re an entity that works well together.”
To ensure fairness in promotions to higher ranks or special duties, Brown will have a panel of supervisors and peers interview eligible employees, he said.
Brown has twice married but has been divorced about five years now. He has a stepson who is 23 and a daughter who is 18.
“You know me, not being married, that’s basically making me married to what? My job,” Brown said.
But he does find time to go fishing and hunting and to watch football and baseball.
“I like high school football and I like Georgia Southern football and I like the University of Georgia,” Brown said. “That’s kind of my little circle right there.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.