After about five months of work, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office has launched a new website with a number of citizen-friendly features, including crime and sex offender mapping tools.
The site, which went live Tuesday afternoon, was built with county residents in mind, said Maj. Tom Patton, head of the Support Services Division.
“One of our passions here is that the communication between the sheriff’s office and the community is two-way,” he said. “We listen in addition to talking, so we really wanted to emphasize the inflow [of information] as well as the [outflow].
“We looked at a lot of websites for a long time – police departments, sheriff’s offices, other agencies – and most of them were built around showing off their own activities, capabilities and people. We wanted something different; we wanted something functional for the citizens.”
That functionality includes an extensive “How do I?” section, which provides users with various tools, such as “report a barking dog” or “request a vacation check,” a service the sheriff’s office provides to residents to help monitor their property while they are away.
Other features include a comprehensive list of various employees’ contact information, precinct and sheriff’s office locations and information and other tools.
In addition to the main site, citizens can access a supplemental page called Sheriff to Citizen, which offers detailed information and mapping of sex offenders in the county.
“For a citizen, [sex offender mapping] is something that’s been done through the GBI website for years,” said First Lt. Jody Chapman, who oversaw the website creation. “You can search your own street, or say I live in the county but my address is in Gainesville … I can click Gainesville and it will show the sex offenders for the Gainesville address.
“If I want to map those, I just click on ‘map results’ and it’ll map the sex offenders.”
Studio Forsyth: Forsyth County Sheriff's Office Shows Off New Website
The map doesn’t just show users where sex offenders are; when a person clicks on a map point, the convicted offender’s photo, name, age, race, build, offense and age of their victim pops up in a box.
The box also offers an option to click on a PDF, which directs users to a page that lists additional information including more detailed offense information, risk level and additional personal information sex offenders are required to submit to the state.
Chapman said all of the information provided on the site is already subject to open records; the site just now has the capability to show it in a concise manner.
Similar to the sex offender mapping feature, the website has a crime mapping module, where users can search accidents, arrests and incidents by date, name, location or case number.
Though the online feature does charge a third-party fee for accident reports, Sheriff Ron Freeman said county residents who ask for reports in-person can pick them up for free.
He added while the crime information and data is not new – the sheriff’s office already saves and aggregates all incidents, accidents and arrests – this is the first time residents will be able to access that same information.
“This is the outwardly visual layer of what we look at for crime analysis,” Freeman said. “As a citizen, you want to know what’s going on in your neighborhood, but so do we. This is such a large county now that we, [too], have to keep up.
“I made a promise that we were going to be, as often as we could, transparent, and this is our way of trying to let our citizens know what is going on in the community. That’s really where our purpose is in this.”
Patton said having the information readily – and visually – available will also help deputies.
“We want our people to know what the community is seeing, what are we telling people,” he said. “It helps get all our people rolling in the same direction also.”
Though the site is now live, Chapman said some features are still in the works, such as the “most wanted” component, which will list photos and information that the warrants unit generates and updates regularly.