Jay Koon put his uniform in temporary storage when he stepped aside in December as a top aide to interim Lexington County Sheriff Lewis McCarty.
“I hoped to climb back into it soon,” Koon said.
It’s virtually certain he’ll do that after winning last week’s primay election to take over from McCarty, who is serving temporarily after former Sheriff James Metts’ indictment in June.
Koon is preparing to become the new face of county law enforcement and one of the profession’s leaders in the Midlands.
McCarty calls him “one of the up-and-coming (police) officers in South Carolina.”
Koon is in position to become the top county lawman after finishing first in a four-man showdown March 3 for the Republican nomination for the post. His victory is a de facto approval to serve through 2016 since a Democrat or no one else is running at a subsequent ballot April 21.
Koon’s new status comes after a a 21-year career as a police officer mostly in his hometown of Lexington, where he has been assistant chief since 2006 since rising through the ranks.
“I didn’t know if he was ready when he got some jobs but, all in all, he grew into it,” former town Administrator Jim Duckett said.
Koon, 42, blends traditional police work with appreciation of computerized analysis of crime trends and efforts to increase community support.
He doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter personally but knows social media is vital in spreading information and aiding investigations.
His emphasis on cooperation has enabled town police and county deputies to work together much more over the past decade, something uncommon beforehand even though their headquarters are just a mile apart.
Koon – whose given name is Bryan Jacob after his grandfathers – is a plainspoken adult version of the Eagle Scout he was.
He prefers teamwork over individual accolades and the spotlight on himself, friends say.
“He takes credit for nothing,” town police Lt. Matt Davis said.”He wants it for his guys.”
Koon described himself as a mentor for youngsters and fellow officers during his campaign, a characterization rarely heard from political leaders. That’s a trait acquired from relatives and athletics coaches who molded him, he said.
“Helping other people was instilled in me,” he said.
For Koon, it was natural to:
• Load a truck with building materials and spend a week repairing the home of a hunting buddy in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005
• Take time off work to chauffeur elderly relatives on vacation
• Lay sod at a local memorial for slain law enforcement officers prior to its debut in 2012
Growing career demands of his new job might limit such gestures, but he intends to find new ways to set an example.
Becoming a police officer as an uncle and two cousins did is an evolution of that commitment to service, Koon said.
He also likes the variety and camaraderie the career provides. “It’s never the same every day,” he said.
Away from the job, Koon is an avid hunter and angler with groups that have included McCarty and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
Koon also is a passionate baseball fan knowledgeable in sports trivia about the University of South Carolina and New York Yankees.
He added an outdoor shed for cookouts with family and friends at his home near Lexington, decorated with Gamecock paraphernalia and other sports memorabilia.
Koon balances career demands with his family, wife, Kim, said.
“We are in a bigger fish bowl, but we want to keep everything as normal as possible,” she said. “We don’t change who we are.”
So their son went home early from the victory celebration after last week’s election to study for a school test the next morning.
The Koons are high school sweethearts married 17 years with a teenage son and daughter, juggling his career and hers as an English teacher and volleyball coach at Pleasant Hill Middle School.
But the couple agrees he spends more time at lunch – usually barbecue – with Lexington Police Chief Terrence Green hashing out strategy and problems.
Green calls Koon “my brother from another mother.”
Their friendship is tight, with Koon sometimes taking Green’s children fishing.
Like McCarty and Green, Koon decries political interference in law enforcement.
But Koon has diplomatic skills that belie the traditional aloofness of law enforcement officers with outsiders, friends say.
His network of contacts and knowledge of local lore leads Green to label him “Lexington’s Google.”
The ties that Koon and his wife developed through family, civic and professional connections were a plus in his win in the elction at the ballot.
Those ties combined with the backing of McCarty and Gov. Nikki Haley to give Koon too much political firepower for challengers to overcome.
He won 93 of 96 precincts, receiving nearly three of every fives votes.
It’s too soon to say whether that showing will deter political foes when the sheriff’s post appears on the ballot again in June 2016.
Koon faces three immediate challenges as he gets ready to be sheriff:
• Remind voters of the upcoming final vote in six weeks to make his ascension to sheriff official
• Prepare for the transition, settling on his management team and changes in what deputies do
• Erase lingering remnants of the black eye created by the downfall of Metts. The former sheriff awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to a federal misconduct charge stemming from interference in the handling of two illegal immigrants at the county jail.
Koon is inclined to have two top assistants instead of the traditional one.
He is pondering “some streamlining” to assure more deputies patrol neighborhoods to help reduce burglaries and thefts.
Those crimes total nearly nine of every 10 offenses committed in a steadily growing county home to an estimated 275,000 people, FBI reports say.
“A lot of that (crime) is driven by narcotics,” Koon said. “This meth epidemic is spreading.”
He favors restrictions on the sale of some nonprescription medicine used to make illegal drugs.
Koon’s familiarity with deputies’ operations while serving as a McCarty aide for five months should be beneficial.
“It’s not going to be a lot of wholesale changes personnel-wise,” Koon said. “We’ll see what we can do about improving service by moving people around.”
He is looking at transferring some aspects of court security, extradition of out-of-state prisoners and transport of inmates to medical care to private firms.
Koon wants to avoid confrontation with county leaders that often flared under Metts, pledging cooperation with County Council members who plan more control on spending for public safety.
“I want to hit the ground running from Day One,” he said.
McCarty counsels patience. “It’s going to take time to get his arms around this thing, but he (Koon) is an exceptionally quick learner,” McCarty said.
Koon is replacing a local legacy in succeeding Metts, who was sheriff since Koon was an infant of a few months until stepping aside shortly in December before his plea.
The challenges ahead don’t overwhelm Koon.
His refuge will be a familiar spot at home.
“I resolve a lot of problems,” he said, “in my rocking chair.”