Mike Godowns readily admits he’s the least well-known among the six candidates for Richmond County sheriff, but he doesn’t see that as a real disadvantage.
“I was determined from the get-go that I was not going to owe anybody any political favors if I did manage to get the position,” Godowns said. “I’m not going to have any reservations about the changes that need to be made.”
Godowns said he is well-known among certain circles and has a lot of friends whom he expects will support him in the Republican primary against Freddie Sanders.
A long-time resident of south Richmond County, Godowns worked as a sheriff’s deputy from 1996 until early 2006.
While with the sheriff’s office, he worked as a road patrol deputy, and also in the Richmond County jail and in prisoner transportation. He became a POST certified instructor in 2003, he said.
In 2004, he started work as a part-time independent insurance agent and moved into the full-time role when he left the sheriff’s force. He said he sold his insurance business in 2010 and began working in nuclear security at Plant Vogtle in Burke County last year.
He has been married for more than 19 years to his wife, Meredith, a teacher with the Richmond County Board of Education since 1993. They have four children.
Godowns said that after he sold his insurance business he considered returning to law enforcement, but was already thinking about a run for sheriff.
“I love law enforcement, I always have, I’ve always missed it,” he said. “If you talk to anybody who has been in it any amount of time they will tell you it is very hard to get out of it.
“Actually, I’ve never left it. All my friends still work for the sheriff’s department. It is something I always wanted to do even when I wasn’t there.
“One of the things that makes me a little different from the rest of them is since I’m not directly tied to the sheriff’s department now, I feel like I can go in and make some necessary changes where some of the rest of them can’t.”
Godowns said the sheriff’s office is in need of drastic changes, beginning with how deputies deal with the public in day-to-day operations.
“I think we need to change the training. I’ve said this before, it’s not a big secret that the morale in the department is terrible,” he said. “And there are some issues in-house that we need to clean up and that’s one of the things that I intend to do.”
Godowns said deputies need to have the skills to go into any part of the community and be able to communicate effectively. They need to be recognized as ambassadors of the department, he said. The same goes for the sheriff, he said,
“I think a good leader (must) do what they say they are going to do,” Godowns said. “It will be my job to be out in the community, too. I need to be at homeowner’s association meetings. I need to be at county commission meetings. All that is important to keep up with current affairs and to keep me out in the community to kind of fix any mistrust that the community might have with the sheriff’s department.”
Godowns said he wants every deputy to have opportunities to get the advanced training they need to help them do a better job and advance through the ranks.
“All deputies need to have the opportunity to go to advance training if they can. You are dispatched out to a call and most of the time it is a crisis call. How you deal with people right off the bat makes a lot of difference. We have a diverse community.”
Godowns said one of the biggest problems affecting morale is an inequitable promotions process. He would alter the current system and focus on individual merit, he said.
“I’m going to do away with promotions, how it is done now. It’s going to be done by ability, not by who you are or who you know,” Godowns said. “The deputies and I’ve been there, I’ve felt it myself and feel like the promotions and awards are given on favoritism and nepotism and not by the ability of the deputy.
“If you know how the pecking order works now, you work at the pleasure of the sheriff. The sheriff is the one who ultimately decides the promotions.
“We have people in our department right now who have been passed over who are very capable and have the ability to do the jobs if they are promoted.”
He said an improved fair promotions process will go a long way toward improving morale and retaining deputies.
“Deputies have to work special duty. They have to work seven days a week for years at a time just so they can make ends meet,” Godowns said. “It has long been known that the sheriff’s department don’t get paid as well as some of those around. We have a revolving door here. We lose 20 to 30 percent of our work force every year. That’s a pretty good bit of people if you start putting numbers to it.”
Godwons said he thinks there is a fair amount of diversity among the rank and file employees, but not in the administration. That is where changes need to be made, he said.
“As far as the upper ranks, there is some discrepancy, and I’ll say there has been some discrimination in the upper ranks. I plan on blending the department a little bit better, and there will be more ethnicity, Hispanic or black or whatever the case may be, in our upper ranks.
“You will not be able to ask me a year from now why is my department not more ethnically blended. The argument won’t be there anymore. I think it will make it where we can go out into the community and get more support from the community because we will be a better blended department.”
Godowns said the next sheriff must do a better job in connecting to children before they are juveniles in trouble with the law.
“I want them to come to us instead of run away from us. I think we need to do that by being visible, being there for them, be in the schools and being visible so they can see us. And they will understand that we are just like they are. We are humans; we have families that we want to go home to. We need to work a lot harder with our juveniles.”
One way to reach out is by re-establishing the summer youth program with the sheriff’s office, he said.
“There used to be a summer youth program at the sheriff’s training center, but it was canceled because of funding. I intend to bring that back.
“We had hundreds (of children) out there. It was a great place for us to communicate with them and intermingle, get to know theme and create that dialogue that can last for years.
“You get them at younger ages and at 17 or 18, you may not have the problems that you have now.”
One strategy Godowns has for attacking areas with high crime rates or with traffic problems is to get more deputies on the streets through a volunteer reserve officer program.
“It is where you bring certified deputies back that may have retired or may have gone on to some other line of work but who still want to remain being certified deputies.
“We can put two deputies in a car if we need to do that. It will save us from having to dispatch another car and it won’t cost is a penny.
“That’s something that if I am elected sheriff will happen pretty quick. It is a very inexpensive way to get certified and good deputies back on the road.”