Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he has only one regret in his career in law enforcement.
“Many times over my tenure with the sheriff’s office, I put my job first and my family second,” he said. “This was not the right thing to do.”
As he said it, his voice cracked and his eyes became teary. He seemed more surprised than anyone at his reaction.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m not like this.”
Surrounded by his wife of 14 years, Patti, and stepdaughter Heather Disher, and wearing thick black-rimmed glasses pushed down on his nose, the 66-year-old announced he will not seek re-election this year.
Strength said he was “just tired” after 35 years with the department, the past 11 as sheriff.
“Everyone should know when it’s time,” he said. “And I think the time has come.”
Another factor Strength said went into his decision was the death of his father. Howard Strength was a career officer with the Augusta Police Department – first as a motorcycle
officer, then as a traffic officer and later as a road lieutenant. Strength said his father often worked two to three jobs while he was growing up and he rarely saw him. Finally, at age 69, his father told his family he was going to retire.
“I thought, my father is finally going to get some rest,” Strength said.
Instead, his father had a stroke and died before he was able to do so.
“You’re not promised tomorrow,” he said.
The two women flanking Strength during his announcement are not ready for him to be done working.
Patti Strength, an administrative assistant at juvenile court, said she has to work 12 more years before she can retire, so she’s concerned how he will fill his days.
“Maybe he’ll still change his mind,” she said. “His health is good. The community needs him.”
However, Strength said he has spent the past 35 years being on-call nights, weekends and holidays. Phone calls at 3 or 4 a.m. were not uncommon.
“I want to have somewhat of a life for myself,” Strength said. “I have dedicated my life to this agency and this community. Everyone needs to know when to quit.”
His career has seen a fair share of accomplishments. His department was responsible for three large undercover operations – 2007’s Augusta Ink, 2011’s Fox Hunt and the recent Smoke Screen – that yielded more than 300 arrests.
He was instrumental in the expansion of the Webster Detention Center, which included the addition of 484 beds in two
male pods, an expanded kitchen and laundry area, a medical area and a video visitation center.
At the end of 2011, crime in most categories was down significantly, some the lowest in four years. Strength created the metal and burglary task forces and got holiday pay for deputies. Even through the worsening economy and city budget cuts, he managed to avoid losing any road deputies.
Lt. Robbie Silas, Strength’s brother-in-law, has expressed interest in running for sheriff, as has Capt. Scott Peebles. Education Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree, a former sheriff’s investigator, also has said he would run if Strength stepped down.
Silas and Roundtree both attended Friday’s announcement, but neither would talk about a run for the office.
Strength said he will not endorse anyone until after the primary July 31.
He said he has two pieces of advice for whoever replaces him: Get the support of the department, and get the support of the community.
“You got to have the community to do this job,” he said.