Joe Berlin, an independent candidate for sheriff of Jones County, spoke to about 30 people last Thursday evening at the Erata Community Center near Sandersville. Since he is running as an independent, Berlin will not appear on the ballot until the November general election. Republican incumbent Sheriff Alex Hodge will face two Republican challengers in August, Macon Davis and Paul Sumrall.
Berlin has 22 years of law enforcement experience, and he started his law enforcement career in Sandersville in 1997. He left Sandersville in 2000 to go to the Laurel Police Department, where he is currently a sergeant over a special operations division.
Berlin said he has been bombarded with a number of questions from voters, with perhaps the foremost of those being about deputies living out of county and taking home squad cars on fuel paid for by taxpayers.
“I will say this: today it’s hard to find anyone to do this job. I don’t care if they are from Laurel, Sandersville, Jones County or wherever. You’re not getting a lot of applicants applying for this job. You watch TV and see the scrutiny law enforcement is going through. You’ve got some bad law enforcement and some good law enforcement. One bad law enforcement man makes it bad for everybody. Nobody is applying for this job so it makes it hard to find anybody to work,” he began.
“Are there people working in Jones County that are driving out of county?” Berlin continued. “Yes, they are. I don’t agree with it, because that’s my money just like it’s anyone else’s paying for their gas. My theory is that if you live out of Jones County then you can drive your personal vehicle to work just like I do every day and then get in your county car and go to work. If you live in Jones County, more power to you. You can take your car home with you because it’s a visual deterrent in your community. People that live in Hattiesburg and Wayne County, it’s not a visual deterrent; it’s just a ride to go back and forth to work and it’s putting wear and tear on the vehicles.”
Berlin then tackled the sheriff department’s budget, an issue that generated some tension between the current sheriff administration and the sitting Board of Supervisors.
“Everybody knows we work on a limited amount of money,” stated Berlin. “You can’t just go in there and ask for seven million dollars and get it. It’s got to come out of somebody’s pocket. It’s gonna come out of mine just like everybody else’s. Some of these elderly people who live on fixed income cannot afford for their taxes to go up.
“So with the current budget that is there now, I believe I can work within that budget,” he added. “I’ve looked at salaries and some of the other expenditures, and I believe there’s room for improvement.”
The sheriff candidate then shifted his attention to the respect he feels the citizenry should always get from law enforcement.
“A big thing that people are questioning me about is the respect that these officers are not giving. Some of these officers are showing up on calls and acting like they don’t have a care in the world. One thing that I have learned in 22 years is that if you treat people with respect you’ll get respect,” said Berlin.
“What’s wrong with deputies getting out of their cars, going up on a porch when they see someone drinking coffee in the morning and ask them if anything is going on, if there’s anything they need to know about?
“Without the community’s help, you cannot solve crime. You can watch TV all day long and watch these high profile investigators, but it doesn’t work like that.”
He explained that some cases that law enforcement officers are directly involved in from start to finish, like an arrest for a DUI, are pretty cut and dry, but he cited crimes like burglaries and larcenies as ones that law enforcement struggles to consistently solve without the community’s help.
Berlin then emphasized the need for more cooperation between the sheriff’s office and other law enforcement departments in the county.
“I would like to bring a better working relationship between all the departments,” he said. “Right now, me working at Laurel, and the sheriff’s department, we do not have a good working relationship.”
Berlin told the Erata audience that the current sheriff’s administration does not want the LPD in the county doing anything. He said that under the previous administration of Sheriff Larry Dykes, he used to handle calls in Pendorff all the time. Now if someone is in need across the city limit line, he has to get permission from higher-ups before he can intervene.
“The working relationship between all the departments has diminished. No one gets along; no one works together; it’s sad. Each department has it’s own supervisor. Sandersville has a chief; Soso has a chief; Ellisville has a chief; the fire departments have a chief; Laurel has a chief; there’s no reason one person should try to control the county. The bottom line is that we all need to work together – the departments, the communities.”
“This is a calling,” Berlin stated near the end of his presentation. “Most officers don’t last but five or six years before they are looking for something else to do. I believe this county needs change, not just from the sheriff’s department but all over. I see the patting on the back; I see money being spent here and there that shouldn’t be spent, and it’s not fair to us to pump money into something and not get nothing in return. I will be a one hundred percent sheriff, not part-time but a full-time sheriff. There’s no way, and I don’t sling mud at anybody, and I don’t sling mud at the sheriff that’s in there now, but there’s no way you can run other businesses and run Jones County and be a one hundred percent sheriff.
“With that being said, this is a calling for me,” he concluded. “I didn’t want to do this job, because I have enough headache where I’m at now. But the people wanted me to do it, and I felt like if the people wanted me to do it, I needed to step up there and do it.”
Berlin then asked the attendees for their support in November.