Robert Hare courthouse courtesy

Robert Hare, running for Clarke County Sheriff, stands in front of Athens-Clarke County Courthouse. (Courtesy Robert Hare)

Sgt. Robert Hare said he could have registered as a Democrat or an Independent when he decided to campaign to be Clarke County’s next sheriff. However, as a registered Republican for 20 years, Hare said he won’t pretend to be something he’s not.

Hare, a self-described moderate Republican, said he hopes voters will look past the party label and judge him based on the merit of his ideas and experience, saying the Sheriff’s Office shouldn’t be a political position in the first place.

“We shouldn’t have to choose which side of the fence we’re going to play on because, in the end, it all matters about the community,” Hare said. “If you call 911, I’m not going to ask if you’re a Republican or a Democrat … We’re not going to do that. If you need help, we’re coming.”

After serving nine years in the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office and 17 years total working in law enforcement, Hare said the primary reason he’s running is to address the low morale, high turnover rates and other issues facing the sheriff’s department. Hare worked as an assistant watch commander at the jail before resigning to run for sheriff.

“I love what the Sheriff’s Office represented when I first started. I still love what the Sheriff’s Office [represents],” Hare said. “I absolutely loved the people I worked with and I’ve worked for. The problem we have is the lack of leadership from the command staff-level up.”

A vision for the office

Hare has centered his campaign for the Sheriff’s Office around “four pillars of action” — security and safety, education and outreach, recidivism and rehabilitation, and community involvement.

Hare based his pillars around the 2018 operational audit of the Sheriff’s Office, which highlighted inadequate staff training, jail safety, low morale and high turnover rates.

“I felt I couldn’t wait another four years in case [incumbent] Ira Edwards would have won again,” Hare said. “I don’t think the status or the mental health of the agency could wait another four years.”

Hare plans to implement an extensive training course for new deputies before they begin working regular or permanent shifts at the jail. He said he would implement monthly refresher courses on previously learned topics such as de-escalation skills and defensive tactics, and he plans to regularly search housing areas in the jail.

Hare, who has raised German shepherds most of his life, also wants to implement a program for inmates to train and work with dogs and cats in partnership with Athens-Clarke County Animal Services. Hare aims for the program to provide a positive outlet for inmates while they make the animals more suitable for adoption. Hare said this program is meant to reduce inmate recidivism.

After working more than a decade in jails and detention centers, Hare said he teaches his team members that inmates are humans too. To Hare, the best way to earn inmates’ respect is to treat them with respect.

“When a person gets put in handcuffs for the very first time, or even a series of times, we’ve pretty much stripped them away from everything,” Hare said. “The only thing they got left is respect. If you respect them, they’ll respect you.”

Dustin Hughes, who previously served under Hare in the Clarke County Jail, said he trusts Hare with his life, saying Hare’s knowledge on how the jail should be run and dedication to look out for his workers makes him a good leader.

“He’s like the type of person you want to be, in a lot of ways. I love the man to death,” Hughes said. “We got a lot of bonding experience in the jail. We’ve had to pull inmates out of dorms together, stop fights. He can handle himself very well.”

Another key aspect of Hare’s platform is to increase the community’s positive interaction with the department. He plans to sponsor a community barbecue and partner the Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard with junior ROTC programs in the county, high school programs sponsored by the U.S. Armed Forces.

Ralph Perez, another former jailer for the county who served under Hare, said Hare is well-equipped to fix the problems facing the jail, saying Hare is a “consistent and fair” leader.

“Robert Hare is not a politician. He’s a police officer, that’s what he knows. This political stuff is something new to him. That’s why I think he’ll work out very well in Clarke County, running that jail,” Perez said. “We don’t need a politician, we need someone who knows law enforcement.”

Hare’s history

Raised in Burley, Idaho, Hare enlisted in the Marine Corps straight out of high school, where he served for nearly a decade before his honorable discharge in 1993, he said. After leaving the Marines, Hare was drawn into law enforcement by his family’s “long history” in the field, where Hare’s father, uncle, brother and a close friend were involved.

After working in a correctional center in Las Vegas, Hare moved to Georgia in 2006 and started working at the Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center. Hare later joined the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office in 2010.

Over his 17 years in law enforcement, Hare has worked as a jailer, warrant officer and student resource officer, among other positions.

Hare’s life changed forever in 1993 when he suffered a near-fatal accident while working as a forklift operator in San Diego. A forklift weighing 50,000 pounds fell on top of him, broke his pelvis in five places and caused massive internal damage. Paralyzed from the waist down, Hare said doctors told him he would probably never walk again and his law enforcement career was over.

Hare fell back on his “Marine Corps mentality” and started physical therapy. In 1995, Hare was walking normally again.

“I’ve done things people said I couldn’t do,” Hare said. “They said I couldn’t walk, I’m walking. They said I couldn’t be a cop, I’m a cop. They said I couldn’t have kids, I have kids. And now they’re telling me I can’t be sheriff. I’ll prove them wrong again too.”

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