One of the biggest races in the Pine Belt is a showdown between a pair of men who have more than 70 years of combined law enforcement experience. Both are fighting for Forrest County sheriff.
The challenger, Charlie Sims, has 35 years of experience in various avenues of law enforcement, including a lengthy career at the Hattiesburg Police Department.
“I started with the Hattiesburg Police Department in 1981, went through their academy, worked my way up through the ranks and stayed a little over 20 years and retired as chief of police in 2001,” Sims said.
The incumbent, Forrest County Sheriff Billy McGee, who is seeking his seventh term in office, has racked up 40 years of experience.
“I took office in 1976 as a constable, prior to that I worked for Gene Walters as a deputy and in the jail, after 16 years I ran for sheriff and have served for the last 24 years as the Sheriff of Forrest County,” McGee said.
Both men said they are interested in serving the public and the community as a whole, and it's part of the reason they are in the business.
“My commitment to the community is service-based, you know walking around the past 10 months, I have told people, I have the education, I have the experience, I have got the training, but the biggest thing you need to know is I have the desire to make a difference in the county,” Sims said. “From my early days in Hattiesburg, our foundation was community policing, making sure the community trusted us and we built that relationship and we serve them.”
With a laugh, McGee said people may think he is crazy for his reason, but said it with a smile.
“The public service aspect is what I enjoy the most, I don’t get a lot of bang out of putting anybody in jail even though that’s our job and we have to do that when it's necessary, but the public service portion of law enforcement is the reason I have stayed,” McGee said.
Sims touts his past career record, and his last 10 months of campaigning in the community, said it has taught him a thing or two.
“The desire and commitment to serve the people, will be when I get in that office, I will do my best to make sure they get what they need to make their community safer,” Sims said.
As far as McGee is concerned, he noted this is the hardest fought election he has ever had to run.
“The satisfying part of it would be to be able to continue to work with the people here that I love and have made my law enforcement career fulfilling and I would appreciate that, being able to be sheriff one more time,” McGee said.
Despite their numerous accolades over the course of their career, both knew at a young age that law enforcement would be their future.
“It’s something I have always wanted to do," Sims said. "Watching Adam-12 on TV, Dragnet on TV when I was a kid, it was something that there was no doubt when I graduated from high school, (I) had my plans to get my criminal justice degree and go straight into law enforcement."
McGee referenced his family and their connection to law enforcement.
“My dad was in law enforcement for over 30 years, my mother was a secretary for The University of Southern Mississippi Police Department for a bunch of years, so I grew up around it, it was just in my blood,” McGee said.
Sims added that he has a strong push to keep the community informed, and to hold his department accountable, along with be present in all the schools in the area to help with community outreach.
“I want them to have confidence in the department, for the people to feel safe in their neighborhoods and homes and know that we’d be responsive to their needs,” Sims said.
McGee said that county policing is a different road to travel when it comes to law enforcement.
“I have 40 years of county law enforcement experience; it is different that city law enforcement and city government, the whole side of government is different with the county, and I have experience running a jail,” McGee said.
The two candidates will be on the ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.