MARIETTA — Cobb Sheriff Chief Deputy Milton Beck presided over the swearing-in ceremony of four new deputies on Friday, a bittersweet moment for the sheriff’s second-in-command after announcing his retirement this week.

The sheriff’s office catered lunch for the new deputies and their families, and Beck was all smiles as he bounced from table to table, ribbing the new recruits and shaking their parents’ hands.

Eventually, Beck took to the podium, giving a short speech to the new deputies before handing over their badges and swearing them in. Beck offered several pieces of advice to the recruits: own up to their mistakes, always do what is right whether they’re on duty or not and never give up.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Beck posed for photos with each new deputy, giving one a hard time about his haircut and thanking another’s father for making the trip down from Michigan to see his son take the oath.

The rest of the sheriff’s command staff praised Beck for his communication skills, sense of humor and thoughtfulness. Maj. Michael Williams recalled a time Beck called him to apologize for using rough language in a heated situation.

Williams said the word Beck used was “dagnabbit.”

Col. Sonya Allen, who was Beck’s partner when they worked in narcotics together, praised Beck for his giving nature.

“If he has something, he will give it to you,” she said. “And I know people say, ‘He’ll give you the shirt off his back.’ That’s the phrase. But that’s truly how he is.”

Sheriff Neil Warren said he’s known Beck for decades, dating all the way back to when Beck played football at Osborne High School, their mutual alma mater.

“He is a great law enforcement officer, friend, family man and community leader. I really expected to see him as Cobb County Sheriff one day. Of all the elected sheriffs I have known in my 40 years of law enforcement, he would be among the best candidates. His work ethic and ability to build partnerships in the best interests of the community are some of his strongest traits. I understand he has some great career opportunities in the near future. I will always be thankful for his friendship and service and I will greatly miss him.”

Beck joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1989 and was appointed chief deputy by Warren in June 2013. He announced his retirement earlier this week — his last day is scheduled for March 29.

True to form, Beck cracked a joke when discussing why he is retiring.

“I’m old, man,” he said with a laugh before continuing, “Nah, I’m kidding. It’s a decision everyone will have to face in their career. It’s not a matter of if, it’s just when. And I think the timing is good. There’s some other opportunities that I’m entertaining after here. … I’m retiring from the sheriff’s office, but I’m not retiring from work. But it’s something I prayed about, talked with the family. It’s a very difficult decision. I talked in detail with Sheriff Warren, and it was emotional being with him and being with these guys for so many years. But I think it’s good timing now.”

Beck said he hasn’t confirmed his next job yet, but he will in the coming weeks.

“I’m looking at state government and the private sector,” he said. “I’ll let you know when I make that choice. … There’s some people I haven’t given an answer to, and I wouldn’t want it to come out in the paper.”

A LONG CAREER IN COBB

Beck said he has served in every division in the Cobb Sheriff’s Office over his nearly 30-year career there. He’s worked in the Cobb jail, as court security, as an undercover narcotics officer and an investigator in internal affairs.

He worked on more than 300 narcotics cases when he was working in that department. Though he is Asian- American — his mother is Korean — he said he would often pose as a Hispanic man by the name of Chris Sanchez when he was undercover.

He said he has good memories working in undercover narcotics, and he’s proud of being one of the original investigators with the domestic violence unit that the sheriff’s office started in the mid-1990s.

“But it’s not any specific assignment, it’s the people that I worked with that I’ll remember the most,” he said.

Beck said he’s proud that he helped the office make strides to improve the equipment issued to its employees, including finding more practical and comfortable uniforms, as well as the work to improve the department’s training programs.

But Beck said there is still work to be done to improve the salaries in the sheriff’s office.

“I don’t know what a law enforcement officer should be paid,” Beck said. “It’s never going to be enough because you’re talking about somebody in law enforcement that signs up for this and is willing to lay down their life for another. And here’s the thing: usually, the person that they’re helping, saving or preventing any harm to, they don’t even know their name. And so how much money do you pay an individual for that kind of job day in and day out?”

He said there have been improvements — the county now offers educational incentives and better pay for working tougher shifts — but there are still improvements to be made.

“Cobb County needs to be out in the forefront in recruitment, retention and retirement for law enforcement as it once was when I first started,” he said.