Former Hinesville Police Department Criminal Investigation Unit Lead Detective Maj. Thomas E. Cribbs passed away Monday.
"It’s a sad day for us here," HPD Chief George Stagmeier said. "He worked here for so long and was such an anchor for the police department. Our thoughts are with Mary (Dowd Cribbs) and the family. We wish them all the best."
Cribbs retired from HPD last February after 41 years of service - 40 of those with the detective unit. The chief said Cribbs was so fond of his work and fellow officers he still visited the station almost every week.
Cribbs’ bond and affection for law enforcement was forged during his early years growing up in a small community in Bryan County known as Lanier. He realized from an early age that he was destined to become a cop. One of his former neighbors was the chief of police in Pembroke. When that neighbor moved away the new home owner was Noah Dixon, the chief of police from Collins. As a child Cribbs carried a toy pistol nearly everywhere he went.
During his teenage years Cribbs spent a lot of his time with his brother-in-law, who was the coroner of Pembroke. He has said a lot of his background in forensics came about while helping out at the funeral home.
Cribbs attended Bryan County High, enrolled in college but soon embarked on his passion and started working part-time at the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office. He was among the first to become state certified after the implementation of the Georgia Peace Office Training Academy during the early 1970s.
He was the chief deputy in Bryan County for 6-½ years before being hired at HPD.
"He was like the Elliott Ness of Hinesville and we were like the Untouchables," HPD Detective Tracey Howard said as he recalled early days under Cribbs’ mentorship. Howard often joked with his former boss and thought of him as a second father. They worked together for 25 years.
"Our relationship was just that...It was kind of funny because everybody, no matter where they came from or their background… Everyone had a different position in this family and (Lt.) Suzie (Jackson) and I were definitely his children," Howard said. "I know that whether we had done right and were looking for his praise, of if we had done wrong and were waiting to be chastised, it certainly felt like we were dealing with Dad."
Howard said Cribbs was well-respected in the law enforcement community and regarded as an innovator in law enforcement techniques.
"He was an innovator…a pioneer during the time when law enforcement was transitioning from old time policing by brute force to professional law enforcement…Where officers used their mind to solve crimes and create prosecutable cases so that we could ensure that the bad guys, once apprehended, would face the consequences for the crimes they committed," Howard said, adding Cribbs was among the first to use video and still cameras to document crime scenes.
"And not only for our region and community but for the whole state of Georgia. He was definitely someone that was recognized everywhere you went…. Whether they were members of the GBI, GSP, FBI, even DNR, it didn’t matter. Wherever you went he had already made an impression upon them."
Cribbs was also the firearms instructor at HPD.
"Ironically I kind of took his place," Howard said.
Cribbs was a noted sharp-shooter or as Howard said during Cribbs’ retirement, "a shorter version of John Wayne who could hit every target even when making trick shots using mirrors."
"Even in his last class before his retirement he had no issue in qualifying and shooting at a high level of proficiency," Howard said.
His declining health was one of the reasons Cribbs retired last year. At that time he said he wished he could continue contributing to HPD. He had hoped to gain better control on his diabetes, get some work done around the house, tinker around his workshop and spend time with his wife, daughter and grandchild.