After graduation, he spent a year in college, worked at Scot Housing for a while, and in October 1983 began with the sheriff’s department.
Tatum has attended numerous training sessions including Georgia Professional Management Program at Columbus University, Georgia Law Enforcement Command College, and spent three months in FBI training at Quantico, Virginia.
While at Quantico, Tatum was on full-time training, absorbing numerous courses with the intent to prepare him to be an agency leader.
He moved to employment with the Waycross Police Department and worked under “three top leaders in the field of law enforcement,” Tatum said – Chief W. Lynn Taylor, Chief Jim Blackburn, and Chief Tony Tanner – gaining a wealth of knowledge in all aspects of operating a department including hiring and firing, operations, budgets and maintaining a trained workforce.
His concerns for the community and for the future lives of his grandchildren and others in the neighborhoods led Tatum to decide to run for sheriff.
“I want to continue the trend of improving the sheriff’s department,” said Tatum, adding that “Randy did a fantastic job and I want to continue that.”
“One reason I want to be sheriff is to continue making a safe community for my grandchildren to grow up in,”
said Tatum. “We’re still a good community. Waycross and Ware County are safe places to live and raise children.”
Tatum said although most of his law enforcement years were spent with the city police department, he believes in his ability to handle the job and serve the people well.
The separation of the departments is a natural thing, but the two departments also work very well together to serve the areas inside and outside the city limits. “There are two different approaches in how you operate,” said Tatum.
“There’s a difference in the complexity, the makeup, and general operations of the department.”
One issue that continues to worry Tatum is the amount of illegal drugs that are made available and the number of overdoses that have occurred in recent years due to strong substances such as heroin and fentanyl.
“Drug trade is still very active, although the products have changed somewhat,”
Marijuana and crack cocaine were the big draws in the 1980s and ’90s, but now the even more dangerous substances are filtering into the community. The way drugs are made available also has changed, going from dealers on street corners to ones far more sophisticated using cellphones and other electronic devices for sales or buys.
“There’s always going to be an element of crime,” said Tatum. “And we have some gang activity here, although at minimal and subdued, not bold and brazen. We have to try to stay on top of that to protect our community.”
Tatum said he also wants to work closely with State Court Judge Tommy Hatfield to try and establish pre-trial adjudication.
For a minor infraction, offenders are put on probation and if they do what they’re supposed to, the charge goes away. However, Tatum said if they don’t, they face the possibility of a second charge.
“Pre-trial helps lower the jail population, thereby lowering the cost of housing inmates but at the same time, offenders are being punished,”
said Tatum. “If they keep themselves out of trouble, it will go away.”
Tatum is familiar with jail operations, having been involved when the city police department had its own jail and officers spent time tending inmates. “I’m trained in all segments of law enforcement from budgeting and writing policy to scheduling shifts and employment,” said Tatum. “We’re talking about millions of dollars of taxpayer money. You have to be frugal and spend wisely.” Tatum has been active in civic organizations such as the Waycross Exchange Club, Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation and vice president of Big Swamp Hunting Club. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three grown children.
He is the youngest of six children born to James Hamp Tatum and Hazel Tatum.
When his children were growing up, he coached girls softball for 16 years and boys baseball.
“This is my home. I want to make it the best it can be. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve tried to prepare myself for it,”
said Tatum. “I’ve worked under some great leaders who taught me a lot and allowed me to prepare for specialized training.”
The special election to fill the sheriff’s vacancy will take place on Tuesday, March 16, with early voting from March 8 through 12.
Sheriff Randy Royal died Wednesday, January 13, leaving the seat open after three full terms as sheriff. He won a fourth term by defeating Tatum in November.
Carl James, who’s serving as interim sheriff, also has said he will seek the office.