Richard Mecum, former Hall County sheriff, is retiring today from his position as U.S. marshal.
It’ll take some adjustment time, he said Thursday.
“I started law enforcement Jan. 1, 1963 and got out for a while and did other things but always came back to it,” he said.
“For a while, it’ll be about sitting down and realizing that I’m not going to have to jump and be responsible for anything. I’ll be getting used to not having to do that, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Mecum, a Gainesville resident and the Hall County sheriff from 1980 to 1992, has served as U.S. marshal for the district that includes Atlanta, Gainesville, Newnan and Rome since 2002, when he was nominated by George W. Bush.
The U.S. marshal is in charge of federal courthouse security, transportation of federal prisoners and the search for interstate fugitives, among other tasks. He serves at the pleasure of the president and has encountered many interesting and high profile cases.
“With the 2005 Brian Nichols shooting case in Fulton County, the media and citizens were calling for an investigation to be done,” Mecum said. He was asked to join the committee and then later chair the committee weeks later.
“We were looking for deputies and their lack of action that allowed the shooting to happen and identified several personnel,” he said. “From there several terminations happened. It’s been very interesting. I’ve worked for city, county and state, but not federal. That’s totally different.”
In July, President Barack Obama nominated former Atlanta Police Chief Beverly Harvard as the next U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Georgia, meaning the end to Mecum’s eight-year tenure.
Mecum stayed on the job longer than he expected after Obama took office. As a lifelong Republican, he knew that a Democrat would be nominated for his job eventually, following the change in administration.
He’s proud, especially of the Southeastern Regional Fugitive Task Force that formed in 2003 to find people with felony warrants.
“We’re able to hunt all over the U.S. and sometimes in foreign countries in high profile cases such as murders or robberies, but about 85 percent are city, county and state warrants,” he said. “We have about 80 fugitive hunters throughout the state, and 50 right here in metro Atlanta ... Another act in 2005 allowed us to go after child abusers and child molesters also, and we’re beginning to pick that up and run with it.”
Mecum began his law enforcement career in 1963 as a city police officer with the Fort Collins, Colo., Police Department. After he moved to Georgia and attended the University of Georgia, he became a police officer with the University of Georgia Police Department in 1974. He became the director of the Northeast Georgia Police Academy and in 1978 became the supervisor for management studies, and state and local law enforcement studies at the Georgia Police Academy in Atlanta.
Mecum was the first Republican ever elected to countywide office in Hall County when he was chosen as sheriff in 1980.
“I enjoyed being sheriff. I came into the department when it was really starting to explode population-wise,” he said.
“There were two issues I really looked at, which were the burglary problems and traffic fatalities.”
Under new ideas and training, the sheriff’s office dropped the burglary rate to the lowest in Hall County’s history, he said. Traffic deaths also fell as deputies took on more training activities.
“We wanted them to be prepared to do their jobs and prepare them for the future,” he said. “It was a really interesting time.”
The department brought in its first medical examiner in 1985 and started several drug task forces, including the Multi Agency Narcotics Squad that operates today.
“The sheriff’s department has changed tremendously since Sheriff Steve Cronic has been there, and he’s done a lot of things to make it better and more responsible,” Mecum said. “The job of sheriff has changed also. You’re not a good old boy anymore. You’ve really got to be well-educated and well-trained for what needs to be done, otherwise crime in the area go backwards again.”
Colleagues are throwing Mecum a retirement luncheon in the U.S. Marshal office in Atlanta’s Richard B. Russell Federal Courthouse this afternoon. After turning 70 last Saturday, Mecum is looking forward to some rest.
“I like reading and writing, and I haven’t been able to do that as much,” he said with a laugh. “Also church and traveling. I think my wife Judy has already set up three or four cruises.”