Most of the times you saw Sheriff Jerry Modena, he had a smile on his face. And most of the time he greeted everyone by their first name. Yes, he knew that many people, and that many people knew him. Modena died quietly at his home Wednesday evening. He was 73. Modena had served in Bibb County law enforcement for more than 40 years, including three terms as sheriff, when he retired in 2012. Most political observers would also tell you he would have faced little if any opposition if he had decided to run for a fourth term. But wisely, he chose to hang up his badge as his health started to decline.
As happy as he seemed to be sheriff, Modena was a no-nonsense kind of guy when it came to law enforcement, and he could play hardball with the best. He didn’t back down from the Bibb County Commission when they wanted to cut his budget below what he thought was necessary for him and his deputies to do their jobs. Still, he understood the art of compromise. Modena was an example of an old/new kind of law enforcement chief. He knew the old tactics being a former SWAT commander, but embraced the new means of data gathering tactics that showed how to deploy his forces in areas where crime was spiking. He was one of the first to identify a problem jails across the country are still dealing with -- using jails as a mental health facility and the associated costs that run into millions of dollars.
Modena was also close to his men. You could see the pain on his face when one of them was hurt or killed. It was as if a member of his own family had been hurt, and that’s why so many of the men and women who served under him would go to the mat for him and why many in this community would, too. His caring nature was known all over Bibb County, and most of the things he did for people never made headlines. Even some of the people he had to put behind bars thanked him later. Sheriff Jerry Modena was special. He set a standard we would do well to follow.