August 27—MARIETTA—The directorship of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation remains in Cobb County with Michael Register sworn in Thursday.
The former Cobb County police chief told the MDJ on Friday that his top priorities in helping the agency include cracking down on street gangs, supporting local law enforcement and building public trust. But first, he said, he still has something to learn.
“My intention is to go there and watch, listen and learn, and try to integrate as a good team member at the GBI, before I start looking at different strategies and things like that,” he said.
Register served in the military for 23 years, including service in Afghanistan, before joining the police force and working his way up to chief of the Clayton County Police Department. Most recently, he was assistant chief deputy to Cobb Sheriff Craig Owens, and previously the county’s director of public safety. His wife Keisha Register works for the city of Marietta.
Register takes over the desk from former Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds, whom he considers a friend who “left the desk better than he found it”. Reynolds is now a member of the Cobb Superior Court following his appointment by Governor Brian Kemp.
“He left some big shoes to fill, and I’m going to do my best to fill them,” Register added, as he takes over an agency with nearly 850 employees and a budget of $130 million a year.
Gang violence was a major topic of Reynolds’ tenure, and Register said he wants to continue that focus with a “two-pronged approach”.
“We must continue to work on initiatives that keep our young people out of gangs, or help them get out of gangs,” he said. “But if a person takes a different route and chooses to be in a gang, we can’t — then the other approach is the enforcement approach.”
He later added, “I really want my (special agents in charge) to work with not only the sheriffs and chiefs, but other initiatives in those regions that will help educate young people about gangs, as well as a variety of other initiatives that impact crime and the security and stability of the community at large.”
Register said the agency will continue to support local police in other ways. In his first 90 days in office, he hopes to visit each of the 15 GBI districts in the state to address their needs.
“It’s really all they need in terms of investigative or forensic support. We’re going to give them that to the best of our ability, and with 159 counties and countless local agencies, they are definitely our customers and each and every one of them is important” , he said.
Sheriff Owens said his office relies on the GBI for information about crime labs, conducting tests and obtaining results to resolve cases.
“And I think Chief Register — having that local experience with Clayton County, Cobb of course, and the Sheriff’s Office — he will bring that different mindset so he can also make sure that (the GBI) some of the needs that some of the local agencies have.”
In addition to its law enforcement capabilities, the GBI has a role as oversight body for local law enforcement. It investigates dozens of police shootings each year and turns the findings over to local prosecutors. Since Owens was elected sheriff in Cobb County, he has also asked the GBI to investigate the deaths at Cobb County.
Register said any investigation by Cobb police officers or sheriffs under his supervision would be treated the same as any other agency.
“Everyone has experience. Everyone has a home somewhere. But since I’m a director now and I’m from Cobb County, I never see that as a problem. For the most part, it’s because of the great leaders you have in local law enforcement here .
“We have such a large number of law enforcement officers here that they understand that preferential treatment is not expected. They would not want preferential treatment either. Any law enforcement chief in the county here… I think (Owens and Cobb Police Chief Stuart VanHoozer) are men of merit and integrity, and they also want the facts and the truth.”
In another oversight role, the GBI was also given new powers this year from the General Assembly to investigate allegations of voter fraud.
“I think you put the political blinders on at that point. An investigation is an investigation, whatever it is about,” Register said. “…I think it’s politically polarizing. But from the GBI’s perspective, we’re going to do our job and the investigation will be based on the facts as we find them.
“This is the kind of position that law enforcement officers aspire to, and it’s definitely the pinnacle of my career,” he said. “I will do everything I can to show the governor and the citizens as well as the men and women in the GBI that I am worthy of the position.”