Capt. Scott Peebles is the youngest candidate running for Richmond County sheriff, but he still thinks what sets him apart is experience.
In more than 20 years of service on the sheriff’s force, Peebles has worked in almost every department, including road patrol, the SWAT team, the DUI task force and as the officer in charge of investigating violent crimes and homicides.
The Augusta native began his career with the sheriff’s office at age 19 after graduating from Westside High School. He moved through departments and rose through the ranks rapidly over the next two decades. He has attended an array of schools and police training during that time, including the FBI Academy in 2005 and the Georgia Law Enforcement Command College in 2011.
“I think if you just look at the experience and the training, then it tells you that I’m someone who’s got a finger on the pulse of the department,” he said. “I’ve worked nearly every division there is. I know what it takes to get the job done. I know where the strengths are. I know where our weaknesses are, and I’ve got a vision for the agency to carry us forward.”
Peebles points to his biggest successes while working in investigations as three undercover operations – Operation Augusta Ink, Operation Fox Hunt and Operation Smoke Screen – that resulted in hundreds of arrests and cases made against suspects connected to gang activity, gun thefts and burglaries across the area. He says these complex operations involving many officers over several months prove he can make a difference at the top of the agency.
“I believe it is one thing to say that you can do something or to say what you want to do, but I’ve been able to demonstrate throughout the last 21 years that I can put a plan together and execute it successfully,” he said.
Peebles, who serves on the board of the United Way of the CSRA and the Greater Augusta Arts Council, lives on Central Avenue with his wife, Mandi. He has two daughters, ages 10 and 12, from a previous marriage.
“Richmond County is my home. It always has been and always will be,” he said.
Peebles said that because Augusta is the second-largest city in the state, it deserves a sheriff’s office that reflects well on the city and its residents.
“We are the largest full-service sheriff’s office in the state,” he said. “I think it is important that we be a leader in the state when it comes to law enforcement.”
Peebles said he wants to professionalize the agency, which employs almost 800 people, by seeking national accreditation as many other agencies have done over the past 15 years.
“I think that it is important for the citizens to have confidence in their law enforcement, to know that their policies, procedures and practices are up to the highest international standards,” he sad. “National accreditation brings that. It brings a layer of protection for the community because the difference here is that we are not a police force. We are not hired and fired by the mayor, the city council or the commission. This is the sheriff, a very powerful position.”
Peebles said with higher standards comes more responsibility for the sheriff and some limitations placed on the power of the office.
“It’s a layer of transparency in the agency, and I think that transparency and that national accreditation will help develop more confidence in the community in us,” he said. “And to some regard I think it weakens the office of sheriff, and I think that that could be a good thing.”
Peebles said national accreditation will improve hiring and promotion practices and help alleviate perceptions on imbalance and under-representation by minorities on the force.
“If the African-American community here feels like the agency doesn’t have the proper representation or balance when it comes to officers in the agency, national accreditation oversees that and ensures that you have an agency that is reflective of the community,” he said. “It oversees your hiring and promotions practices to ensure that they are fair and equitable and that you have hiring and promotion practices that have basically stood court challenges.”
Peebles said building a recruitment program is critical to building a more diverse force and finding better qualified officers.
“Right now we have an open application process, and that is if you want to come apply to be a deputy then that is what you can do, but we don’t have any active recruitment,” he said. “As sheriff, to make sure that we have balance and that the African-American community has faith in the agency, then we have to be representative of the community.”
“You’ve got to go out and try to find the kind of individual you want for your agency,” he said. “Rather than being a passenger on the ship that is your agency, you should be driving the ship, so I want to drive us toward where we want to be.”
Peebles said he wants to take the sheriff’s office in a new direction, but that doesn’t mean he is unhappy with the job Sheriff Ronnie Strength has done in the past 12 years.
“I believe in servant-style leadership, I believe in motivating and empowering people to get the job done, so to some degree that would be in contrast to the kind of old-school way that we do things now,” he said. “I admire, respect and love Sheriff Strength. He is like a father to me, but I’m not my father, and I have my own ideas.”
Peebles said he wants to continue Strength’s accessibility and openness to the public and intends to see people who come to call on him without appointment.
“You are a public servant, and I think you should be available to people,” he said. “Some folks I believe seek this office for power and some seek it for service. I believe in seeking it for service. It is a huge burden – it would be a burden to be sheriff of a county this size. When you lay your head down at night, you have got to be confident that you have put everything in place to keep 200,000 people safe.”
Another major change Peebles wants to make is transforming the agency to function in a community-oriented policing model. He said the change will be difficult but worth the effort.
“National accreditation and community-oriented policing, those two things will transform the agency completely,” he said.
“It is a much more proactive, a much more aggressive style of policing,” he said. “A lot of people see community policing by its name as weak on crime. It is the exact opposite. It is the most aggressive form of policing there is.”
Peebles said the current force is reactive, moving from call to call with no overall strategy about how to solve neighborhood problems or create a better quality of life. He said deputies will have to work with community leaders, neighborhood groups, churches and business owners to determine what problems need to be addressed and come up with strategies that work.
“Community policing really is putting together a strategic plan, not for each beat but for each neighborhood,” he said. “It recognizes that each neighborhood, each beat has its own set of problems that have to be addressed. Community policing directs your resources toward solving those problems in that area.”
UNDERSTANDING THE COMMUNITY
Peebles said he wants to build a sheriff’s office that helps make neighborhoods safer and improves the quality of life for all residents.
“It is all about officers understanding that citizens, rich, poor, black or white, no matter, they are all our customers, and we are here to serve them,” he said. “That mentality has to be bled down on a regular basis from the top of the agency all the way to the bottom.
“Being nice to someone should not in anyway translate as weakness. You can be very nice and still be strong and stand firm on the things you need to stand firm on,” he said. “I prefer to lead with honey rather than a baseball bat. I think you get a lot further with people by doing that.”