Originally created 09/22/99

Assessors see modification in action



Columbia County Sheriff's Office is going above and beyond in the area of community services, according to an assessment of the agency completed this week.

Though their written results will not be available for two weeks, Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies assessors told Sheriff Clay Whittle on Tuesday that his agency was in complete compliance with all 380 of the commission's standards.

"We passed with flying colors," Sheriff Whittle said. "We went above and beyond the requirements in that we are doing things that other accredited agencies aren't doing."

The two assessors -- Capt. Tom Clark of the Henrico County (Va.) Division of Police, and Maj. Boda Lawson of the Sullivan County (Tenn.) Sheriff's Office -- examined the sheriff's office for four days starting Saturday The examination was part of the reaccreditation process the department must go through every three years. Columbia County, which was accredited in November 1996, was the first sheriff's office in the state to meet the association's standards.

The sheriff's office was nominated for awards for its Communicator Emergency Notification System and its All-Terrain Vehicles Ready Unit, both of which are part of its Community Services Division.

The notification system, which allows any member of the command staff to relay a taped message to an entire area of people by telephone with the push of a button, is the only system of its kind used by an accredited agency.

Officers can record a message and send it to all phone numbers in a set area or grouping. Since July 1998, the system has been used to notify neighbors of police activity in their area or even the onset of bad weather. It can also be used to relay information to specific groups, such as churches or gas stations, of countywide problems related to their business.

"It provides us with an opportunity to give the citizens timely notification of community problems," said Capt. Bill Probus of the department's Office of Professional Standards. " It helps us notify residents quickly, which is important because we want citizens to know what's going on."

Assessors were able to see the notification system at work Monday night as deputies searched for four burglary suspects who attempted to outrun police in Millhaven subdivision. Officers used the system to notify surrounding Neighborhood Watch captains that there were fugitives in the area.

The All-Terrain Vehicles Ready Unit is a group of trained volunteers who donate their ATVs and time to help police search for everything from fugitives to missing Alzheimer's patients.

"A couple of years ago, we had some kids who escaped from our (Youth Detention Center) who wrecked their car and bailed into the woods off of Wrightsboro Road," said Capt. Rick Whitaker of the Community Services Division. "We called the ATV units to transport the deputies and their equipment into the woods and help set up an outer perimeter. They were apprehended just a few hours later."

Both Capt. Clark and Maj. Lawson will take their results to the full commission, who will vote Nov. 21 on whether Columbia County will be granted accredited status for the next three years.

"I knew that we would pass because we do this every day and we maintain our status by doing it correctly," Sheriff Whittle said. "This shows that we went beyond the necessary standards."

Reach Scotty Fletcher at 868-1222, Ext. 111, or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.



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