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Posted: February 27, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Badge of Honor

Sheriff Ezell Brown navigates new challenges, opportunities

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Head lawman: Sheriff Ezell Brown proudly displays his sheriff's badge in his office at the NCSO. Brown was elected sheriff after more than 30 years in law enforcement.

Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown currently holds one of the most powerful positions in the county, but before he decided to dedicate his life to serving and protecting others, he was just a little boy in Blakely with a predilection for uniforms.

When he was around 8-years-old, he turned an admiration into a goal for his future. Brown remembers one Saturday afternoon when policemen came to arrest an elderly woman.

"I remember it so well," he said. "Watching their actions and the force they used with her. Just the way they presented themselves… I remember thinking, even at that young age, that it was unnecessary and excessive and at that moment it planted something in my mind. I wanted to be a police officer — even though I wasn’t proud of them — I wanted to be an officer that everyone else would be proud of. I kept that focus from that day forward."

The ninth of 15 children, Brown had a strong Baptist upbringing, and although he grew up in the midst of segregation and integration, he was brought up to believe that he could have whatever he wanted out of life.

"My father used to say, ‘Son, while traveling this ole’ earth shoot for the moon, wrap the stars up and create your own Milky Way.’ Family was always very important and my parents taught us all to work hard and to love one another. In later years, when I became a deputy and would go home to visit, my father used to tell people I was a sheriff, when I corrected him and said that I was a deputy and not the sheriff, he just said ‘you will be.’ They never had any doubt that I could have anything out of life that I wanted."

During his early teens, Brown also became interested in construction. Though he never lost his desire for law enforcement, he became obsessed with the idea of building his own home – something he did in 1977 and resides in today.

Brown began his career in law enforcement in 1973 when he started at the Covington Police Department. In 1978 he moved to the NCSO and in 1996 he made his first bid for the sheriff’s seat.

"Prior to running, the idea was in the back of my mind," he said. "Watching Sheriff [Gerald] Malcom carry out the job inspired me. I thought to myself that I could do it too."

Brown lost his campaign for sheriff in 1996 to Joe Nichols and at that time he said he promised the citizens of the county that he would not run against Nichols as long as he was meeting the needs of the county.

"I felt that being a man of my word would pay off later on," he said.

And although his hard work and dedication to the NCSO and the citizens of the county has paid off, he now has budget cuts to contend.

Brown admits things are tight right now, but he is quick to point out that law enforcement is a must and that even though money is tight, there must be people available to enforce the laws.

"We must realize that now more than ever we need our law enforcement," he said. "When times are tough, crime goes up. People who would not normally turn to crime will do so to feed their family, and the hardened criminals will capitalize on it.

"Administering justice is one of the reasons why government exists today and if we neglect this fundamental obligation to the people then we break trust with them and, ultimately, loose their confidence. Law enforcement is needed now more than ever to preserve that stability in the economic downturn."

The jail is currently home to more than 600 prisoners and it costs roughly $45 per day to feed and house a prisoner – and that is just those with no medical needs. It is more per day for those that are in poor health and require medical assistance. There are between 275-290 people employed by the NCSO and the cost for one year to outfit and pay a brand new deputy is between $50,000 and $53,000.

"Newton County is a great county," Brown said. "We’ve had our pitfalls, but I believe with greatness we will rise and we have that greatness. Our department is eager and morale is high. Just to talk about a 10 percent salary cut [which was being discussed by the Newton County Board of Commissioners] is discouraging but they [deputies] are still positive because they know I am one of them and I will do all I can to ensure this too will pass."

Brown envisions many things for the next four years and he says that he sees a level of commitment and enthusiasm from the NCSO employees that is heartening.

"Everything we do is teamwork and a work in progress," he said.

"I see the entire community as a whole coming together as one big neighborhood," Brown said. "We are all quick to label certain areas of the community as bad, but if we bring it all together maybe we will all see each other as a big family. We may stumble, but we’ll get up and through it all law enforcement will stay operationally sound."

Brown plans to implement new ideas like a motorcycle division and a drug and addiction suppression unit. He also plans on being aggressive in grant writing efforts and more active in neighborhood watch programs. He also says that he will tolerate nothing less than respect for all citizens from his deputies.

"That’s all I know," he said. "Love, respect and to treat others how you want to be treated regardless of race or situation, and that’s how this department will be run."

Although he was brought up to believe he could realize his dreams, Brown still seems a little incredulous of his position as the first black sheriff of Newton County.

"You know," he said. "50 plus years ago no one would have ever imagined a little boy from south Georgia would become the sheriff of one of the largest counties in the state of Georgia," he said. "When you think about it, it is pretty amazing."

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