The longest-serving sheriff of Coffee County has made his last radio call. At 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 31, Steven Graves signed off.
Graves, who served as sheriff for 20 years, said being at the helm of the county’s law enforcement agency has been very rewarding.
“I have enjoyed it,” Graves said. “The citizens of this county have been great to me.”
Graves ran for another term in August’s general election, but lost a tight race to newcomer Chad Partin.
Discovering his passion
Although his time as sheriff spanned two decades, Graves’ tenure with the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department dates back nearly twice that long. He first joined the sheriff’s department in 1981.
“I graduated from MTSU and wanted to go to social work, but there was a hiring freeze with the state at the time,” Graves said.
He decided to apply for a job at the sheriff’s department.
“I talked to then-sheriff Bobby McCullough and asked him if he had anything open,” Graves said. “He gave me a job and I liked it so much I stayed.”
During his first nine months with the department, Graves was tasked with guarding children whose mother had been a victim of a crime.
“We did 24-hours, around-the-clock security for the children,” he said.
The next several years, Graves served as a patrol officer. In 1998, he was first elected sheriff.
“It’s been rewarding,” Graves said. “My favorite part of working at the sheriff’s office was hiring officers that wanted to help the community.”
Starting a charity
The department has seen several initiatives launched with Graves at its helm.
“We started the Christmas charity program in 1998,” he said.
Starting on a small scale, the event has grown through the years. The first year, several of the officers donated money and brought presents to families in need, said Graves. As the years went on, the program expanded beyond the sheriff’s department to the community as a whole, generating thousands of dollars in donations.
“And it blossomed from there – last year, we donated over 500 toy boxes and over 250 food boxes,” he said.
A favorite aspect of the job for Graves has been seeing people improve their lives.
“I loved seeing [inmates] leave jail and never come back,” he said. “I have learned compassion and patience. I was not the most patient person when I first became sheriff.”
Throughout his years as sheriff, Graves said his perspective on the people his department was charged with handling began to change.
“It took a while, but I realized 90 percent of the people that come to jail are decent people who made mistakes,” he said. “I feel sorry for them, and every time they leave, I hope they don’t come back.”
Graves said getting to the bottom of how and why crimes are committed has been interesting and satisfying.
“I will miss the investigation process and trying to make sure everyone gets justice,” he said.
While his career has taught him the value of patience and compassion, Graves said it also shined a light on the darker aspects of human behavior. What he is eager to leave behind, he said, is “seeing some things people do to other people.”
“I’ve seen a lot and have worked a lot of cases that one can never unsee,” he said.
Graves is looking forward to the future.
“I will spend more time with my family and grandbabies, and I will enjoy life,” he said.
He will also continue to participate with the Christmas event and other charities.
“I am going to be active with charities,” he said. “I will be involved with the Christmas charity and Relay for Life – we’ve always teamed up with Coffee County New Union Elementary School to raise money for cancer research. The sheriff’s department also puts on fundraisers for people who have had tragedies.”
A fond farewell
Coffee County Sheriff’s Department employees of the department thanked Graves for his support over the years.
“I will forever be grateful to him,” said Shannon Bullion, warrants clerk. “He gave me a chance 18 years ago, and he has been a pleasure to work for. He has been a wonderful boss.”
Sgt. Kevin Hegwood also enjoyed working with Graves.
“The sheriff gave me a job opportunity many years ago,” Hegwood said. “I am very thankful for what he has done for me and my family.”
Advice for the incoming sheriff
On Monday, Chad Partin took on his new position as Coffee County sheriff. Offering words of advice to Partin, Graves said, make decisions.”
“I have left him the American flag and a Bible – he can get a lot of answers there,” Graves added.
Elena Cawley can be reached by email at email@example.com.