WINDER - After serving the public for 20 years, Sheriff Joel Robinson, 61, will step down Dec. 31.
Two men, so far, are competing for his spot.
Maj. Murray Kogod, Barrow County's Chief Deputy, and Sgt. Judd Smith, a Winder policeman, have both announced their intentions to run for Barrow County Sheriff on the Republican ticket.
Whoever wins, that person will lead a sheriff's office that is very different from the 17-man department Robinson acquired in 1981.
A wintertime job led to Robinson's long career in law enforcement.
"I was a self-employed swimming pool contractor back in the 1970s and Sheriff John Robert Austin needed someone to fill in as a radio dispatcher until he could hire somebody. It was wintertime, I wasn't doing any pools," Robinson said. "Well, gasoline went up and nobody was spending any money on pools that spring, so I stayed."
Robinson walked into work one day and was sent out on patrol.
"One day I came in and the sheriff said, 'Get in the car. You ain't a dispatcher no more, you're a deputy.' I said, 'I don't know how to arrest nobody.' Somebody let me borrow a gun to put on. I got out and rode the county and I met a car flying by me. I turned around and chased him down. He saw he couldn't outrun me, so he stopped. I got out, and I was nervous and shaking. I arrested him for DUI."
Robinson, who served in Barrow County's Civil Defense unit before the county had a fire department or ambulance service, took naturally to policing. That led to a successful run for sheriff in 1981.
"I was 32 years old, the youngest sheriff ever elected in Barrow County," Robinson said.
Robinson served a four-year term, then left to alternately manage a tire store, construct swimming pools and drive a dump truck.
But he couldn't stay away from law enforcement. He took the sheriff's office a second time in 1993 and has served since then.
"I liked it," he said. "I care about people and I care about this county. We had 10 or 15 burglaries a month in the 1980s. You just about knew who did them because they did it the same way every time, you just had to prove it. One cycle would get out of prison, another would go in."
Barrow County recorded 180 burglaries in 2006, he said.
Robinson named the Felicia Williams case of 2007 as one of the biggest of his career. Williams pleaded guilty last spring to the murder of her young son and daughter and to assaulting her father on Jan. 3.
"Any time kids are involved, it bothers you and you try to forget it once it's all over," Robinson said. "Your emotions run up and down in this job."
Robinson will stay on with the sheriff's office at least until the new jail and courthouse are completed in March 2009. After that, he and his wife plan to take long weekend trips on his Gold Wing motorcycle and in their new motorhome.
"I've done a lot of good for people," Robinson said. "We brought law enforcement to the 21st century in Barrow County. We improved salaries for deputies. I started the traffic unit several years ago and I was hesitant. I said, 'If I get complaints that you are talking hateful to the public, I'll stop it.' I wrote one speeding ticket my whole time as a deputy."
Meanwhile, two men wait for their chance to lead the Barrow County Sheriff's Department.
Kogod, 43, has 12 years' experience in law enforcement and served as an assistant district attorney with the Northeastern Judicial Circuit. He earned a degree in government and politics and is an active attorney with the State Bar of Georgia. Robinson will serve as Kogod's campaign chairman.
Supporters can follow his campaign at www.kogodforsheriff.com.
"I plan to continue the progressive and proactive measures the department has implemented," Kogod said.
Smith, 33, is a lifelong Winder resident who graduated from Winder-Barrow High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a master's degree in public administration. Smith has served 10 years with the Winder Police Department.
Smith's Web site is under construction at www.juddsmithforsheriff.com.
"If elected, I plan to seek state certification for the sheriff's department, then national certification," Smith said. "I'm going to implement some educational programs for the kids about Internet predators from elementary up to middle school and get them early."