In case y’all have not heard the news, there is a new sheriff in town on St. Simons Island.
Actually, it is just the same old Lacey. And to be fair, Randall Lacey is more accurately a deputy of Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump these days. Regardless of what badge or rank he carries, the face of law enforcement for more than 20 years in the island’s Pier Village district is back on the beat.
And he will be here at least through the busy summer months, when a host of tourists to the Golden Isles will learn what the rest of us have known for years — Lacey has never met a stranger, and scarce few people he did not like.
“I still like people,” Lacey said Thursday afternoon, his signature gravelly voice carrying easily on strong, warm ocean breezes. “And the man in charge thinks I need to be back here, so I’m happy to do it.”
That would be Sheriff Jump, the man who recruited Lacey as soon as he heard the Glynn County Police sergeant was retiring last June from a stellar career with that department. Jump wanted to initiate a chapter of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association CHAMPS (Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety) program in Glynn County public schools. The local CHAMPS program got under way in January in five local elementary schools and was a resounding success by all accounts.
But then came the summer months and the school break. Sheriff Jump had heard from more than a few folks how much they missed having Lacey watching over things on the island. As a county police sergeant, Lacey had gained broad popular appeal for establishing a friendly rapport with the locals and visitors alike, while also enforcing the law with a mix of firmness and fairness.
It did not take Sheriff Jump long to figure out how best to use Lacey during the long school break.
“When he’s not in court or transporting (prisoners), his zone is St. Simons Island,” Jump said. “He serves civil (papers) on St. Simons. And when he’s not serving, he will be there (in the Pier Village). So let the folks know, Lacey is back. Lacey’s going over there and do what Lacey does best and be the face of St. Simons. He is just in a different uniform.”
On this particular day, that uniform was the formal coat and tie deputies wear at the Glynn County Courthouse. He had come straight to the Pier Village from morning court duty. He much prefers the more casual sheriff’s office uniform of khaki pants and golf shirt.
Since he started in back late May, Lacey has managed to spend about four afternoons each week walking the Pier Village beat. It has been a fairly peaceful return, except for the talking-to he gave a young man earlier this week whose car stereo music was too loud and too lewd for the family atmosphere.
“I cut him off at the path,” Lacey said with a smile, eyes twinkling even through those ever-present dark shades. “He got the message. My voice carries a little bit.”
But young kids just seem to gravitate to Lacey, who teaches Sunday school at St. Simons Community Church. Kids like little Ellie, who cast Lacey a shy, blushing smile as she scooted past him Thursday to place her empty ice cream cup in the nearby trash can. “Slow down,” Lacey said, chuckling. “You’re going to be driving one day, and I’m going to remember you.”
This mutual flattery was repeated often in a span of 20 minutes as a host of youngsters and their parents exchanged pleasantries with Lacey. In fact, it was his positive mentoring of school kids as a county cop that convinced Jump to seek him for the sheriff office’s CHAMPS program, the 21st century incarnation of the old DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.
“Any of my staff of deputies could have done a great job, but one name kept coming back — Lacey,” Jump said. “Lacey has such a good rapport with youngsters. It was very simple when I chose Lacey.”
Marsha Smith’s reaction to seeing Lacey on his old beat was familiar among the regulars who have had the chance to welcome him back.
“This is where he can be used to the greater good,” said Smith, an islander who is retired from 30 years of teaching in Dekalb County. “It’s just a sigh of relief to see him here. He’s always on top of things. Keeping the peace, being a good role model. He has that special personality. He can talk to anyone and be a friend.”