The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office now has a new addition to its arsenal of public safety and crime fighting measures.
But it isn’t some new piece of weaponry, fancy new gadget or expensive tactical vehicle. Rather, it’s a group of 20 civilians dedicated to helping law enforcement officers keep the community safe.
On Tuesday, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office graduated 20 members of the newly created Citizens Helping In Policing (CHIP) program that will soon be out patrolling neighborhoods, helping with traffic and assisting sheriff’s office deputies with practically anything they need on a day-to-day basis.
According to sheriff’s office Lt. Andy Fee, these CHIP members, who are volunteers, will be valuable assets to the sheriff’s office by performing a wide range of duties, including doing vacation checks for residents and businesses, neighborhood patrols and observation of reported issues in the community, and help with traffic direction and wreck scene response.
“It's fundamental, everything they take care of,” Fee said. “Every business check, every vacation check, any type of traffic issues that they can actually observe takes that pressure away from the deputies.
“So if they spend a hundred hours doing vacation checks and business checks, it's a hundred hours our deputies don't have to spend doing that.”
He said that by helping with traffic incidents and wrecks, CHIP members will free deputies to go back into service on other 911 calls or process arrests.
"That's 20 to 30 minutes we're relieving from the deputy to finish what he has to do so we can go back into service again," Fee said.
The CHIP unit will also be tasked with observing areas of the county that are receiving complaints from the community about crime or traffic dangers, to log what is actually happening and return that information to deputies.
“They'll sit some place and count the cars that just blow right through the stop sign, and they can go back to the deputy and say, ‘Yes, that's legitimate,’” Fee said.
Fee explained that as the county continues to grow, the CHIP unit will become more and more valuable.
Just like deputies, the members of CHIP will be decked from head to toe in a recognizable and unique uniform and will be outfitted with all of the necessary gear, including radios, flashlights, traffic equipment and first aid supplies to handle any situation.
The sheriff’s office has also deployed two CHIP SUV patrol vehicles into the field for the members to use. Fee said that eventually these vehicles will be permanently stationed at the north and south sheriff’s office precincts once the group is fully trained.
Some of the most experienced members of the CHIP group, Gary Langford and Don Draper, said that for the time being, that training – or mentorship, as they call it – will be the group’s main priority.
Langford and Draper aren’t new to the CHIP model. They participated in a similar program in Johns Creek.
Both said that they got into the program to make a difference in their community.
“I always wanted to get involved with the community I lived in, mainly to give back, and I could never think of a better way than to support the efforts of the law enforcement,” Langford said.
He said that now he is retired and settled in the community after nearly two decades of living in Johns Creek, he figured he had time to pursue working in the group.
Draper, the owner of a software company, said that he got into the program after he went through the Citizens Police Academy in Johns Creek and heard Langford speak passionately about CHIP.
"It does feel like you're kind of giving back a little bit,” Draper said. “It's both interesting to learn about what they do, how they do it, and to be part of the family.”