Rey Rodriguez is running as an Independent candidate to be the next Sheriff of Bulloch County.
As a Bulloch County resident for more than two decades and the father of two sons, Rodriguez is currently a deputy sheriff in a neighboring county. Having served in the military for 20 years and as a Sergeant at the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office where he worked as a Field Training Officer (FTO) and served as a member of the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team as well as the BCSO Honor Guard, Rodriguez has a long tenure in public service.
He’s running for Sheriff, he says, because he loves his community and thinks both BCSO employees and the citizens deserve a more proactive Sheriff. In an interview with AllOnGeorgia, he highlighted a number of his campaign initiatives.
Rodriguez says BCSO employees need a career path. “If you come in as a jailer and you’re promised to be sent to the police academy within a year or two but three years go by, that creates a lot of frustration.”
Rodriguez cites at least 25 departures from the Sheriff’s Office in the last few years. “You have to ask yourself why are they leaving? Why are we not retaining these good employees?”
“I’d like someone can come from wherever to study at Georgia Southern and intern at the Sheriff’s Office, study criminal justice or whatever it is they like, and then start a career. With that, they have to have a path where they don’t feel like they’re unappreciated or stagnant and there’s no progression. I want to keep those people here – educate them and make them asset to the office and give them the opportunity to better themselves, too.”
He says employees should be able to submit letters of interest when a position becomes available and would like to be considered for a promotion. A panel would review those who are interested, which he says would strike a balance and a pathway.
“If you have two guys that are qualified and one of them has 30 years in law enforcement but only two years at the Sheriff’s Office and you have a guy who has 20 years in the military and 15 years at this agency, when you kind of really look at it.
Commissioner’s Relationship & Overtime Spending
With regard to Sheriff Brown’s statement that the sheriff does not work for the Commissioners, Rodriguez said, “We all know that. The Sheriff’s Office is a constitutional office and he is held to a different standard and he doesn’t have to answer to the Commissioners but he does have to answer to the people.”
Rodriguez says Brown ran in 2016 on a platform of being willing to work with other county officials. “You have to be willing to compromise,” Rodriguez said. “There are other offices and departments in the county, so if they have to give you more money, then obviously less money is going to EMS, fire, and Parks & Recreation just to support your overtime.”
He says the community is telling him that the idea of raising taxes to compensate for the overtime issue is alarming. Rodriguez says he would work harder to make cuts and to slash overtime.
“Having employees that are making close to what the Sheriff makes or a little bit above, you kind of have to open your eyes and ask ‘Why is that happening?’ Rodriguez said there are plenty of reasonable explanations for overtime – to include investigators working ongoing investigations or unavoidable events well beyond BCSO control. But patrol officers working an incident where no one was hurt or arrested, he says, could wait until their next shift to draft a report instead of staying late and drafting a report then.
Crime Suppression Team & Partnering with Other Agencies
Rodriguez wants an answer on the Crime Suppression Team (CST) and why Statesboro PD and Georgia Southern pulled out, but continue to work cases on their own. “If they pulled out, then why can’t we just try again?” Rodriguez said in his interview. “Why haven’t we tried to reestablish that?”
Rodriguez cited 2016 CST cases, in which there were 587 drug-related arrests compared to 2019’s 205 drug-related arrests. He says information is now coming from concerned citizens as opposed to agencies working together to network and share information or working off of officer-led tips and information.
Partner for a Response Team
One issue that’s important to his platform is a merged response time which would cycle agency leadership but would collaborate a team with SWAT training comprised of 12-15 officers and deputies. He says the regional responsibility falls on the Sheriff’s Office regardless and a collaborative effort would better prepare everyone for the worst case scenario, referring to the need as ‘essential.’
On his website, Rodriguez touts his desire to create a Traffic Enforcement Unit with the Sheriff’s Office and he expounded on the idea in his interview.
He says counties in the region that have Traffic Units have seen an impact – by way of a reduction – on their fatal crash numbers. Bulloch County saw 14 fatalities in 2019 and Rodriguez says those were preventable. “Stop drunk drivers, slow speeds down, put cell phones down. If your main goal is not to have this number of fatalities, you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Rodriguez refuted Brown’s claim that the BCSO doesn’t have the resources to dedicate to a traffic unit and that’s among the reasons why the county doesn’t participate in the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety partnership. “That’s exactly the point,” Rodriguez said. “The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety provides grants, assets, training, and events” in addition to any funding through GOHS that would help in launching a new unit. He says he could then pull one or two from existing divisions and advocate for Commissioners to approve the hiring of two more deputies.
“The numbers show it deters crime and saves lives,” Rodriguez says. It wouldn’t mean that those deputies couldn’t respond to calls, either. Much like the floating supervisors, they would go where they are needed.
Jail Operations and Inmate Care
“We have a responsibility not only to the inmates, but also to the jailers. Having a clean facility free of health concerns is imperative,” he says. “Whether someone is in there for murder or a DUI, we have to treat everyone equally. It’s not meant to be comfortable, but keeping it clean, listening to inmate grievances, and trying to fix the problems that exist, that needs to be looked at frequently.”
He would also like to see jail staff cross trained on duties with employees equipped to do multiple jobs. “The lowest ranking person should at least be able to do the job immediately above their ranks. No one should be threatened by you wanting to learn the job, either.”
As Sheriff, he says he would take an active role in knowing everything that happens inside the jail. He is also opposed to housing juvenile offenders at the Bulloch County Jail, saying that’s a responsibility of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.
With regard to the expansion, he said it is clear there was a need to have the evidence room expanded, but he questions some of the other initiatives. “If the expansion and need for room for more inmates was the main source of his [Brown’s] grievance, why are we building more office space?”
Rodriguez says there’s a need to have deputies be more visible, which is why he would like to create zones – either by dividing the county into North-South ends or East-West ends. Supervisors on duty would be responsible for ensuring deputies are spread out. Zones, he says, reduce the chance that a deputy is hurt or hurts someone else when rushing to respond to a call while also reducing call response times.
Re-opening cold cases – be it a murder or missing person cases, moving the administrative offices to a 4-day work week, and improving the process for citizen complaints are all among the initiatives Rodriguez would like to put at the forefront if he’s elected to serve. “Look at these things from a different angle – whether it comes from me or an employee, let’s try something new.”
He’s an advocate for working with the other players in the judicial system, like the Solicitor, District Attorney, and judges to discuss justice reform, specifically on sentencing reforms for non-violent first time offenders.
As a whole, Rodriguez foresees himself as a sheriff who will listen to those working for him and those around him. “If you ask the people who are doing the jobs, they’re going to give you ideas. They know what works and what doesn’t. I want to be the one to grow and receive and listen to ideas. Everyone has solutions that just haven’t been vetted or tried yet.”
Running as an Independent
Running as an Independent candidate in the State of Georgia is no easy feat. In fact, the Peach State is ranked 50th in the nation for ballot access laws for third party candidates and candidates must collect signatures before the Board of Elections will print his name on the ballot. The signatures are not a commitment of support or even a promise to vote for him in November, but merely for Rodriguez to have the opportunity to be considered as an option.
In Rodriguez’s case, he must collect 1,742 signatures by July – an obstacle some might see as daunting just to run for Sheriff. But Rodriguez says he doesn’t believe the Sheriff’s Office should be partisan. “Just judge me for me and what I’ve done in my career in the military and in law enforcement.”
Author’s Disclosure: I offered my signature on the petition for Rey Rodriguez to appear on the General Election ballot in 2020 as I have long been an advocate for improved ballot access and believe that any qualified person – regardless of political party affiliation – should have the opportunity to run for office. AllOnGeorgia does not endorse candidates in any race.