Elections

Bibb sheriff's candidates tout experience versus need for change

Jerry Modena and Bill Lucas both want to be the sheriff of Bibb County.

Modena is a two-term incumbent who says he's fulfilled many of the promises he made while campaigning eight years ago. But he says he still has goals he wants to accomplish before handing over the job.

Lucas, a political newcomer, says Bibb County needs change.

"Change has to happen," Lucas said. "If you expect to do the same things over and over again and to see change, that's impossible."

The winner of the July 15 primary will go on to face Republican Warren "Scotty" Shepherd in November.

Lucas, 57, said two key events in his childhood led to his 34-year career in law enforcement.

As a 5-year-old boy, Lucas said he remembers going on a family road trip to Washington, D.C. On that trip, Lucas said his father walked into a diner to ask if he could warm a baby bottle for Lucas' infant sister. He was refused.

"I could not understand how you could be so mean to my sister, who couldn't harm anyone," Lucas said. "That day defined who I would become. Never again would I allow anyone to mistreat another human being."

The second event, he said, was the assassination of President Kennedy.

Sitting in a middle school classroom and listening to the voice of Walter Cronkite, Lucas said he wished he could have prevented the tragedy. "I didn't want the nation to hurt," he said.

In 1970, Lucas joined the Air Force Reserves, where he served for a time as a military police officer. Two years later, he began his civilian law enforcement career with the Bibb County public schools' police department and the Georgia Department of Corrections.

In the following decades, Lucas became an investigator for the Department of Corrections and, ultimately, advanced to become the department's director of inspections, compliance and policies.

During his Department of Corrections career, he also provided protection for several high-profile pastors and served on the security team for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Lucas said it's been his plan for 30 years to run for sheriff. The 2008 race is his first since his retirement two years ago.

In retirement, Lucas has worked as a consultant for the Georgia Attorney General's Office.

A Macon native, Lucas said he raised a family in town while commuting out of town for work.

He serves as a director of the Macon Downtown Rotary Club, and on the boards of the Booker T. Washington Community Center, the Goodwill Vocation Board and on the Bibb County Public Schools Career, Technical and Agricultural Education Advisory Board.

If elected, Lucas said it's his goal to restore the community's trust in law enforcement and encourage residents to become more involved in crime fighting.

"No one person can do it," Lucas said, adding if residents become involved by calling authorities with crime tips or even helping direct traffic, they will have more pride in their community.

Lucas said he also wants to create more unity among area law enforcement agencies by increasing the sharing of information and resources.

As a whole, Lucas said more cooperation and crime prevention programs can "stop the bleeding," a phrase he said refers to all crime.

"We have to continue to fight for a better life for our children," he said, adding when a community is safe for children, it's safer for everyone else as well.

Also, he said he'd like to see the sheriff's office use state resources such as the state patrol helicopter more frequently.

To help reduce juvenile crime, Lucas said he'd like to revamp crime prevention programs for children and offer them to younger children.

"We've got to get to them sooner and before the drug dealers and gangs do," he said.

Lucas said he'd also like to get the jail accredited under national standards.

MODENA'S CAMPAIGN

Modena, 66, had his first brush with law enforcement in the Army, where he briefly served as a military police officer before entering the finance corps.

Upon his discharge from the Army, Modena said he went to work as a bookkeeper until he applied for a job as an assistant jailer at the sheriff's office in 1964.

"I enjoyed every minute of it," Modena said of his sheriff's office career.

Over 30 years, Modena climbed the ranks at the sheriff's office until he retired as a major in 1994.

Modena then took a job as the general manager of Lake Wildwood and applied for police chief jobs.

"I felt like being a police chief was less political," he said. "I didn't think I was any good at politics."

But working outside the walls of the sheriff's office, Modena said he began to see things from a new perspective that made him want to run for sheriff.

He ran for the position in 1996 and lost to incumbent Robbie Johnson, only to launch a successful bid in 2000, beating Johnson.

Modena was re-elected in 2004.

During his first eight years, Modena said he's reorganized the sheriff's office and brought it more up to date.

When he took charge in 2000, Modena said the investigations unit was run entirely by the oldest patrol deputies.

"As the investigations unit aged, things slowed down," he said.

Now, the unit has a mix of both young and older deputies, which Modena said has improved both the quality of the unit and morale.

In 2000, the sheriff's office was still operating with 1980s technology. Since then, Modena said he's updated the dispatching system, put computers in patrol cars and utilized more technology.

To help coordinate crime-fighting efforts, Modena said he's instituted a crime analysis program with two employees who analyze trends and statistics to help redirect deputies' efforts.

Neighborhood watch programs have expanded from 12 programs in 2000 to 95 today.

Modena also said he's overseen the expansion of the jail, which has had a direct correlation to a reduction in crime for both the sheriff's office and Macon police, he said.

Before leaving office, Modena said he would like to oversee the completion of a sheriff's office substation in north Bibb County and to contribute his experience to any attempts for consolidation or annexation.

He'd also like to finish staffing the jail and introduce a program that teaches inmates vocational skills while they're incarcerated.

Modena said the sheriff's office pay scale also needs revamping to help keep experienced deputies from moving on to higher paying jobs once they top out on the current pay scale.

He said 43 people have reached a pay ceiling, and more of them are forecast to reach the ceiling in July and October.

Modena said his 30 years as a sheriff's office employee and eight years at the office's helm make him Bibb County's best choice for sheriff.

"I believe that experience is just invaluable," he said.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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