The 10-week-long course will give insight into the departmental responsibilities within sheriff Steve Wilson’s command.
The concept was a platform of his 2008 re-election campaign, recently becoming a possibility with the newly revamped Ralph H. Jones Training Facility in LaFayette.
“It has been a dream I have had for about four years to do something like this,” Wilson said. “We think it would be educational to the public for those who choose to participate in it. We will be covering a wide range of topics.”
“This is our first class. We will also be learning as we go. We hope it informs the community well,” sheriff’s Maj. Mike Freeman said. “This is also a training opportunity for our employees.”
The course will begin on April 2, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. each Monday, which will continue twice per year in the future.
Students will learn the constitutional responsibilities of the sheriff’s office from Wilson on the first night.
“That (first lesson) quite possibly will be a serious eye-opener for the people involved in the class, because what the majority of the citizens see of the office, the sheriff is not required to provide,” said Pat Cook, commander of the Walker County SWAT team.
By law the sheriff must handle “civil service, warrants, court security and the common jail,” he said.
“The (Georgia) constitution does not require the sheriff to perform investigations, patrol (or) respond to calls for service.” Cook said. “Those are actually things that we do above and beyond what the constitution requires.”
Each division will hold a lesson about its daily duties, including the detention division’s operation of the jail.
“The lion share of the sheriff’s budget goes into that jail,” Cook said. “The cost of housing the number of inmates that we have every day is staggering.”
Patrol division will explain the command presence (specific directions) officers must utilize during a traffic stop. Deputies must control the situation and be direct, while worrying if an inattentive motorist will compound a traffic stop into a serious life-threatening collision.
Traffic stops of vehicles are the leading point of contention among citizens, according to Cook. Those encounters are actually more dangerous than serving arrest warrants.
Detectives will discuss the nature of their caseloads. They will also set up an interactive mock crime scene that students will process.
“The way you package things on a crime scene are paramount to whether or not they are able to be prosecuted,” Cook said. “These (detectives) …. have to be right the first time, without a doubt and with no room for error, because months or years later people are going to take all the time in the world to armchair quarterback everything they did and pick (cases) apart piece by piece.”
Court services and the school resource officer’s expanding responsibilities will be discussed.
The complexities of new laws regarding firearms and the sometimes-misconstrued scenarios when a citizen can use deadly force will be detailed.
“We want people to understand that your gun carry permit is not a license to kill,” Cook said. “If you use it irresponsibly you’re going to prison.”
If firearms are not allowed at a business it must be posted; otherwise it is legal with the proper permit, according to Wilson.
The course will also provide the history of the department dating back to the 1840s, including two sheriffs and two deputies killed in the line of duty.
The academy is limited to adults from Walker County “of good moral character” who have not been arrested or convicted in a felony, according to Freeman.
More than 10 citizens have already signed up. An application can be downloaded from the walkerso.com under the “prevention” tab. Print and fill out the application, which can be mailed or turned in at the sheriff’s office.
“One other prerequisite is they have to like donuts and coffee,” Freeman joked.
There won’t be a test at the end of the course — only a better understanding of the complex nature of law enforcement, according to Wilson.