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Richmond County Sheriff's Office increases presence in community

Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 5:56 PM
Last updated Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013 2:17 AM
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Strengthening the Rich­mond County Sheriff’s Office’s relationship with the community is the main goal of a new division of the region’s largest law enforcement agency.

“The citizens are our eyes and ears,” said Lt. Lewis Blanchard, of the Community Services Division.

The initiative is an addition to the office under newly elected Sheriff Richard Roundtree. Less than two months into the new administration, the Community Services Division is already changing perceptions.

Roundtree said he’s already getting a great response from residents who are seeing more police involvement.

“The flagship of my administration is getting the sheriff’s office back to the community,” he said.

On Jan. 30, the sheriff’s office made its jump into social media with a Facebook page. The office is among the last law enforcement agencies in the area to adopt such an approach. Within two days, the department was already receiving tips.

Blanchard called it a “work in progress,” but already the page had more than 1,000 “likes.”

“We’re in a digital age,” he said. “There’s hardly anyone under 30 who isn’t (on Facebook).”

The page asks for crime tips and posts photos of wanted suspects, but also posts news about the department, including employee awards and the involvement efforts in the community.

Blanchard said the page not only gets information quickly out to the public but also provides a means to seek information on noncrime issues, such as job inquiries.

The Facebook page is only a steppingstone to creating a Web page, separate from the city of Augusta’s Web site, that would offer information on safety tips or public watch programs.

The goal is to have a section on the site where employees can log in to review an online bulletin board of special duty assignments and other announcements, perhaps including birthdays, anniversaries or prayer requests.

The department is looking into programs in which residents can choose to receive texts, calls or e-mails on crime alerts. The Community Services Division also has plans to reach all ages of the community to better explain the workings of the sheriff’s office.

Another new sheriff’s office program is a Citizens Advisory Board, in which 13 people chosen to serve for one year will begin 11 weeks of Citizens Police Academy classes.

During the weekly classes, they will learn about police work. Blanchard said the participants will get the opportunity to shoot at the training range, drive a car on a track, participate in ride-alongs, and see SWAT and bomb team demonstrations.

The 13 members were chosen based on recommendations from the mayor, Augusta Commission and chamber of commerce. A high school senior was chosen from recommendations by the county school superintendent.

After training, the board will meet monthly.

Later classes will be available to residents who wish to learn more about the sheriff’s office. Participants are required to pass a background check. Blanchard said students will be charged only for a shirt to wear to classes.

Roundtree said spots are filling fast for the remaining two classes this year. He hopes to have at least four each year.

For the Sheriff’s Advisory Council, 21 employees from every division of the department have been chosen to meet at least once a month to discuss topics involving the department. Three policy changes resulted from the first meeting, and another change is being considered, Blanchard said.

Community members also may join the Reserve Deputy program. Aiken and Columbia counties have been using reserves for at least 15 years to provide extra manpower without crushing the budget.

Reserve deputies, who must be certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, will be required to volunteer at least 30 hours a month. Though the reserves will have the same requirements and authority as other deputies, they will be volunteers.

Blanchard said the first reserves, who won’t officially hit the streets for several months, will be former Richmond County deputies. Later, the sheriff’s office hopes to include those with previous law enforcement from other agencies and the untrained public, which will attend an academy for training.

The Explorer program, which has not begun locally yet, will seek out people ages 16-20.

The program, which is available in career fields across the country, will educate and involve local youths on police operations and build interest in future careers in law enforcement.

The program will educate the youths, who will be outfitted with uniforms during meetings, on everything from law enforcement history and laws to arrest procedure and criminal investigations. The youths can participate in ride-alongs, national events and community service.

Roundtree said he’s planning events for the summer to get deputies face-to-face with members of the community.

“We just want to be out in the public, not sitting behind desks,” he said.

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Riverman1 02/15/13 - 08:30 pm
That’s what I’m talking about!!!

That’s what I’m talking about. Community partnerships between law enforcement and the public to increase trust in the police and develop solutions to problems. That includes the community, other government agencies, private business and nonprofits.

tgentry 02/15/13 - 08:43 pm
Things are looking good

I'm impressed with the little things already in the works. Keep up the good work RCSO. On another note lets see how many can come out for the flag football tomorrow at 11:00 am. Wheeler Road YMCA.

corgimom 02/16/13 - 09:11 am
This should've been done

This should've been done years ago.

seenitB4 02/16/13 - 09:22 am

He will get the money.....just a matter of time....

rcandrews 02/16/13 - 10:04 am
First of all

This has been done all over the world and it doesn't work. OK I will admit it works really well in places like North Korea where people have no control over their own wealth or lives.

It was not only tried years ago here locally it failed miserably, just ask the folks in Columbia County.

What eventually happens is The Moral Omnipotent Busy Body ends up using over zealous officers as foot soldiers against people they don't like or take issue with for whatever their trumped up reasons are.

The other REAL problem is it costs 10 times more money and that means they just tax us even more during a time when people can't afford any more government extortion.

This is nothing more than bringing in more of The Nanny and Police State for the simple-minded who are afraid of their own shadow but more so their neighbors shadow.

If you think we have racial and class tensions now just wait until this takes hold.

I'll take my cops like I do my firefighters ... I'll call them when I need them.

rational thought trumps emotion
rational thought trumps emotion 02/16/13 - 01:14 pm
Excellent Programs

In areas where the community and police work together, crime is reduced - maybe not stats but crime. When the community and police work together, stats will increase because more crime is actually reported. In areas all across America these initiatives have worked very well and it is inexcusable that most of these programs have not been in place for years. The Sheriff should be commended on this and for trying to move this agency in the right direction. This is great for the RCSO and Augusta. Excellent job RCSO, keep up the good work.

rcandrews 02/16/13 - 02:01 pm
Excellent Program ...

that will cost us our privacy and give government yet even more access to our paychecks.

If people think making all of us criminals is going to be cheap they better get a grip.

All this sort of thing does is foster bad behavior by those who have nothing better to do then get all up in their neighbors business and use over zealous cops to intrude on them.

When the wolves come home to feast they won't be caring about the sheep's opinion on what's going to be for dinner just remember that when you're blowing The Love Horn of The Nanny State.

corgimom 02/16/13 - 07:22 pm
Hey, rcandrews, did you ever

Hey, rcandrews, did you ever notice that the programs work just fine in Aiken County, and in cities all over the US?

Why do you suppose that is?

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