By Denise DuBois
Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor was chosen to mentor new sheriffs at the annual National Sheriffs’ Institute. The institute was held in Colorado April.
Taylor attended this institute in 2011 while he was in his first term as sheriff. Each year, the new attending sheriffs have a mentor who is part of the conference and gives advice.
“It was really cool for me since I had been through the class. I was the first sheriff from Russell County to ever go through this institution. To be called and asked to do it as a mentor was cool,” Taylor said. “They could have asked anyone in the country. I was humbled and honored to have the opportunity to go and not just give advice, but to also learn as well. It was a great week and a big honor for me. I was very blessed.”
The institute consisted of 30 new sheriffs. The goal was not to give classes on laws and law enforcement, since laws across the country are different, Taylor said. Instead, the new sheriffs learn about leadership skills, responsibilities in general, and how to change the direction of a department if needed.
As a mentor, Taylor talked about leadership and being willing to do things yourself.
“It’s hard for buy-in when you’re trying to change a department and the guy at the top isn’t willing to do the things he’s asking the guys below him to do,” he said. “I came through the ranks and been in every position and know what it’s like to get out. I still ride the streets, answer calls, go to crime scenes, and do interviews because if my guys need help, I’m who they’re going to turn to.”
Another important issue that Taylor wanted the new sheriffs to learn was being honest and up front with media.
“You have to be out front and go to the media with everything good or bad. Don’t let the media find out you had to fire someone and you didn’t go to them. The public can handle mistakes from our department. What they can’t accept is me hiding it or covering it up or not prosecuting it,” Taylor said.
Finally, he stressed the importance of having a good relationship with the county commission or other entity that controls the budget.
“I talked a lot about a working relationship with the commission that’s not adversarial and doing things for them like cookouts or speaking to people in their districts. Don’t wait until you need something from them to go talk to them,” he added. “Those are just some of the things I stressed to the guys.”
While he was there, he also learned quite a bit. Grants and applying for grants was good information he brought back with him.
“We’ve tried and have been successful on some grants, but we don’t seem to get as many grants as I see other areas and departments getting,” he said. That is something Taylor wants to look into in the future.
“Overall, it was a great week,” he said.