Richard Roundtree reflects on first year as Richmond County sheriff

Richmond County Sheriff Rich­ard Roundtree began his first year with 10 goals he wanted to accomplish by the end of his first term in office.

He keeps a copy of those goals on a piece of paper titled “My Covenant With The Community” in his office at 400 Walton Way, and seven of them have been marked through with a yellow highlighter.

“I told my team at the beginning of the year that we want to look back at those goals and say it wasn’t luck or anything else, and that it was effort that caused them to come into fruition,” Roundtree said.

Since taking over as sheriff in January, Roundtree said he has kept true to his promise of engaging the community, something he felt wasn’t accomplished in prior administrations.

At the top of his of goals was creating a Citizens Advi­sory Board, a collection of residents from each district appointed by Au­gus­ta Com­mis­sion members. The board meets once a month to provide feedback on policy changes at the department.

The board was formed in May after the sheriff’s office honored the first graduates of its Citizens Police Aca­demy, which was second on Roundtree’s list.

“When the citizens know how the sheriff’s office is operating, they can better communicate with the people inside the sheriff’s office,” board member and Citizens Po­lice Academy graduate L.A. Green Sr. said last month.

Also marked off the list were Roundtree’s goals of creating an “advanced intelligence program” and a gang task force.

In a town hall-style meeting last month, Roundtree bluntly told residents that Rich­mond County has a gang problem, and that he expects to alleviate it by reaching out to youths before they
fall into the cycle of gang activity.

That can be done, he said, through collaboration with the district attorney’s office and the Richmond County school system, two goals that have also been marked off the list.

In an Oct. 14 meeting announcing the changes to come in the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, Roundtree sat alongside District Attor­ney Ashley Wright and suggested alternatives to incarcerating juveniles.

“I recognize that incarceration is not always the answer and tends to indoctrinate young men into the criminal culture,” his campaign letter reads.

Among the three goals yet to be accomplished is Roundtree’s vision of running a fully accredited agency, something he said could happen at the state level by summer 2014.

“Everybody can say, ‘I’ve got the best agency,’” Round­tree said. “Why not bring in someone to assess it? That’s what we welcome because we want to be the premier agency in Georgia. That’s our goal. But we’ve got to have standards to go by.”

Roundtree doesn’t want to stop there. By the end of his first term in 2016, he expects his agency to earn national accreditation.

The remaining uncompleted goals involve introducing new technology to improve the accountability of the department.

One way to accomplish that is through the purchase of new equipment, such as the body cameras the department has been testing
since August, Roundtree said.

But budget restraints have prevented the department from purchasing cameras, which range from $400 to $500 each.

A study found that 85 percent of law enforcement officers say these cameras reduce false claims of misconduct and the likelihood of litigation, Lt. Lewis Blanchard said recently.

“I want to see (the deputies) in action,” Roundtree said. “We don’t have to hide our work. It helps the officer and it helps the citizen, and it lets everyone know that we’re transparent.”

Almost a year after he was sworn in, and despite more than 20 years of law enforcement experience, Roundtree acknowledges that
he is still growing into the job.

“It’s tough at times because you come to the realization that you’re always the sheriff,” he said. “You don’t stop being sheriff at
5 o’clock. You don’t get vacation time. You don’t get sick time. It’s a little overwhelming at times.”

That challenge, Roundtree said, is one he welcomes.

“No matter what the burden of this office brings, the amount of people I’ve been able to help over the year is one part of the job that I can’t even fathom,” he said. “Anytime I get down, I think about the good that I can do from this seat. A year ago, I couldn’t have done that. Now I have the ability to sit in this chair and literally change lives.”

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HOW HE FARED

Sheriff Richard Roundtree set 10 goals for his first term at the helm.

ACCOMPLISHED IN FIRST YEAR

• Appoint a Citizens Advisory Board that will assist in assessing the sheriff’s office to ensure integrity, effectiveness and efficiency of the department.

• Establish a volunteer services bureau that will partner with county residents to create resources to address law enforcement and security needs. These include the Citizens Public Safety Academy (Citizens Police Academy), Sheriff’s Posse, Police Reserves, Community Emergency Response Teams and Police Explorers.

• Establish a comprehensive community policing program that creates a culture of proactive, problem-solving and results-oriented policing.

• Establish a comprehensive gang task force that will concentrate not only on enforcement issues, but will also focus on prevention, education, mentoring, mediation and intervention. This will also involve extensive collaboration with other government, community and nonprofit agencies.

• Establish an Advanced Intelligence Program that uses administrative, tactical and strategic intelligence to focus resources so that the sheriff’s office performs more effectively and efficiently.

• Collaborate with the district attorney’s office and the courts to expand alternative programs to incarceration such as the drug court program.

• Collaborate with the Richmond County school system to establish a joint program to increase the education of children and at the same time reduce crime in the Augusta area.

 

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

• Ensure more accountability from the sheriff’s office. Every complaint will be reviewed. Policies will be implemented to ensure that officers exhibit professional conduct, such as the issuance of personal body cameras to patrol officers and investigators alike. These cameras will help to record the actions of citizens and deputies alike.

• Use the latest technologies such as surveillance cameras and facial recognition and vehicle identification software, which will greatly assist the department in exonerating the innocent and arresting criminals. Such technology will reduce the need for manpower, which is the greatest law enforcement expense.

• Initiate accreditation and certification for the sheriff’s office as a law enforcement agency to ensure that department policies and procedures are updated and use the “best practices” within the law enforcement community. This accreditation and certification will include all sheriff’s office operations.

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