Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes made time to speak with the Coastal Courier this week about his first 60 days in office. Sikes, the son and grandson of former Liberty County sheriffs, was sworn into office Dec. 7. He told the Courier he has been getting to know his staff, the county’s elected officials and administrators and meeting with other local law enforcement agencies.
"I want to know what I have now," Sikes said. "I need to reserve the right to make adjustments for a better, well-run sheriff’s department."
He recently hired martial arts instructor and District 4 Hinesville City Council Member Keith Jenkins to train deputies in self-defense techniques.
"It’s more economical to train our officers locally," Sikes said. "He (Jenkins) brings a stack of credentials with him."
"The sheriff has been very active in networking with local, state and federal agencies, meeting with office personnel, reviewing policies and procedures and already attending law enforcement training," Chief Deputy Keith Moran said. He said Sikes attended the Georgia Sheriff’s Association winter conference last week in Atlanta along with 60 other Georgia sheriffs.
"Sheriff Sikes has already begun reviewing and making changes to our Crime Prevention and Education Programs to reduce crime," Moran said. "This includes more data analysis to determine the areas in the county that receive the highest number of calls and using that data to increase patrols in those areas."
In addition to the sheriff’s conference, Sikes participated in a PTSD training session on Fort Stewart last week. He also is scheduled to begin a 14-week Peace Officer Training Course at Savannah Technical College on April 4.
Sikes, 60, said he is "in relatively good shape" and is looking forward to physical fitness training, qualifying in weapons firing and defensive driving, and studying law.
"Ninety percent of it is learning the laws of the state of Georgia," Sikes said.
The sheriff also wants to "bridge the gap" between his department and Fort Stewart.
Step one "in the right direction" was taken when he signed a partnership agreement between Fort Stewart and other local law enforcement agencies Jan. 26, he said. The agreement changed jurisdiction on state roads that cross the installation thereby allowing deputies to ticket speeders.
Sikes said he would like to further utilize the knowledge and training that Fort Stewart’s military police have, particularly in dealing with soldiers’ issues such as PTSD. Such intensive training can help save lives, he said.
"These guys are willing, they’re able. Let’s pull the barriers down and all work together," the sheriff said. "These are the kinds of gaps that need to be bridged. I remember a day way back when my father was sheriff … when an MP would ride with a deputy. That’s the kind of relationship I want with Fort Stewart."
Sikes said he also has asked Glynn County Sheriff Wayne Bennett for assistance in developing a sexual predator/sexual offender identification, monitoring and notification system similar to the system Glynn County uses.
Sikes said such a system would notify residents if an offender has moved into their neighborhood, and would allow law enforcement to keep tabs on the offender, so they know where that individual is "at all times."
The new sheriff said he was surprised to learn the theft of copper is rampant across the state, as well as here in Liberty County.
"There’s going to have to be more regulations placed upon the buyers," he said. Sikes said he’s not yet sure how this would be accomplished, but he is pursuing it. Thieves steal copper from new construction, foreclosed homes and even Coastal EMC and Georgia Power substations, he said.
"They’re even stealing high voltage lines," the sheriff said. Copper can bring as much as $4.20 per pound, he said.
Sikes said Liberty County, as well as other counties in South Georgia, is also seeing a rise in prescription drug abuse. This is why cooperating with his counterparts in the region, and agencies including the GBI, FBI, ATF and Homeland Security, is so valuable in helping reduce crime, the sheriff said.
Sikes said being sheriff is a privilege and he will do whatever he can to help county residents resolve law enforcement issues.
"Each and every person in Liberty County should know my door is open to them. They don’t have to get in line."