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Meet your government: Sheriff's spokesman wears many hats

POSTED: October 23, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA /The Times

Col. Jeff Strickland of the Hall County Sheriff's Office has 25 years of law enforcement experience.

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Jeff Strickland may be the most-quoted man in The Times.

As the official spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, Strickland, 43, has had his name appear in print hundreds of times since taking over public information officer duties at Northeast Georgia’s largest law enforcement agency late in 2003.

His face also shows up on television in times when events draw the attention of Atlanta-area news stations.

It’s a job he handles on top of his everyday role as Sheriff Steve Cronic’s chief deputy and colonel over the department’s four main divisions: Uniform patrol, court services, criminal investigations and jail. Strickland was promoted from the rank of major to colonel and given the chief deputy title last month.

"A lot of larger departments have people whose sole duty is public information, but here it’s just a small portion of my duties," Strickland said. "But it takes a lot of my time to do the duties of public information officer."

Known among members of the news media as accessible and prompt, Strickland carefully crafts written news releases on cases of public interest and distributes them by e-mail.

He also fields frequent calls from reporters on his cell phone, whether he’s on duty or not. Like others in his position, he chooses his words carefully when being quoted and tries to keep from straying too far from the official news release.

And when news breaks, he becomes a very popular person.

"Any time we have a major (public safety) incident in Hall County, my phone begins ringing with calls from the various media outlets," Strickland said. "I’m on call 24-7."

Strickland said members of the news media are patient with him, since he typically acts as the incident commander at the scene of a major event.

"Our No. 1 goal is public safety, and we have to make sure the incident scene is secure before we can do public information releases," Strickland said. "But it’s important to me that the public gets the most accurate and timely information when something has happened in Hall County."

Strickland, a Hall County native, graduated from Gainesville High School and joined the sheriff’s office in 1983 as an 18-year-old jailer.

He held positions throughout the ranks of the department under three different sheriffs before being tabbed by Cronic as the primary news media contact.

"At first I was nervous, especially doing the live television interviews," Strickland said. "But I learned what the media needs and what to expect, and I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable."

He’s also become a faster typist.

Strickland, who lives in Chestnut Mountain with his wife, Linda, and college-age daughter, Jennifer, regularly runs into people who say they saw his name in the paper.

Strickland said the biggest reward of his job is earning the confidence of his superiors and being given a chance to make a difference in the community where he grew up.

"Since I was a young boy, all I really wanted do was be a law enforcement officer, and I’ve been fortunate to work for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office my entire career," he said. "I’ve had a blessed career."



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