Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry will be the new voice of a statewide law enforcement organization, speaking up for deputies as president of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association.
at an the close of an annual conference held in Stone Mountain last week, and plans to tackle issues that affect county sheriffs and the citizens they serve to protect, he said.
“Speaking on behalf of the 159 sheriffs in the State of Georgia will be the focus of my administration,” Berry said. “Sheriffs deal with the citizens every day and we know what's happening across the state of Georgia. We want to make sure citizens' voices are heard through their Sheriff, and that will be my responsibility.”
Berry was first elected sheriff of Oconee County in 1992 after a career in law enforcement that began at the University of Georgia where he was a police officer, and later working with the District Attorney serving Clarke and Oconee Counties as an investigator.
Berry realized at an early age he wanted to serve in law enforcement. While his father worked as an FBI agent, Berry got to know many of the state troopers and deputies working in North Georgia.
“Those were the people I was around growing up, and it never occurred to me to be anything other than a law man,” he said.
Berry was elected treasurer-secretary of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association four years ago. The group chooses a president who moves up in rank each year from treasurer-secretary to second vice-president, and from first vice-president to president.
Aside from speaking to policy makers under the Gold Dome, the Georgia Sheriffs' Association serves a vital function of offering training and guidance to deputies across the state and runs a shelter for neglected children.
As president, Berry plans to attract more members to the association and seek solutions to better serve the mentally ill before they commit crimes, he said.
“I'd like to see the state of Georgia move in the direction of taking care of the mentally ill,” Berry said. “Nowadays, we find the county jails are the de facto mental health providers across the state and we're going to spend this year bringing this issue to the forefront.”
Terry Norris, Executive Director of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, has worked alongside Berry for the past four years. Last year Norris and Berry urged state legislators to reconsider a proposal to allow private companies - instead of the local sheriff - the right to process and serve court documents.
Sheriffs were opposed to private servers because of their unfamiliarity with law enforcement and the loss of revenue county governments would have experienced without income from local processing fees, he explained.
The decision was eventually upheld, allowing local sheriffs to continue to do the work, and Berry played a major role in the process, Norris said.
“He's a no-nonsense, hard-nosed administrative law-enforcement officer,” Norris said of Berry. “My experience with Scott is that he runs a good in Oconee County, and a lot of times he's been called upon to explain how sheriffs in other counties are expected to handle all of the mandates under Georgia law.”
Other issues Berry may take up include advocating for more adequate funding for deputy training and supporting other efforts to streamline the state's crime lab to prevent delays and backlogs in the court system.
While many issues affect sheriffs directly, local taxpayers would benefit in various ways from Berry's leadership, according to Oconee County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Lee Weems.
“These things would improve our ability to do our jobs and citizens would see the results of that because we would be even more effective,” Weems said. “Not all of these are headline-grabbing issues, but they are issues that would help us to do our jobs better.”
Berry's first official act as president will occur this week, when he will attend funeral services for Clayton County Deputy Rick Daly, who was killed during a traffic stop.