After two decades, a former Forsyth County law enforcement office could be making a return.
At a recent work session, Forsyth County commissioners discussed the possibility of bringing back the Forsyth County Marshal’s Office. No action was taken at the meeting, but bringing the office back would require state legislation.
“What is being proposed here is local legislation … that would create in the county a Marshal’s Office,” County Attorney Ken Jarrard said. ”That’s different from a marshal’s department because what is actually being proposed by this is a marshal’s service that has law enforcement powers.”
The state delegation must approve the proposal, then commissioners may decide whether to create the Marshals by local action or not.
If approved, Jarrard said the office would likely have authority over code enforcement, policing parks and recreation facilities – similar to park rangers – animal control and alcohol code compliance and could perform more general law enforcement tasks “if specifically requested by the sheriff.”
Unlike current park rangers and code enforcement, marshals would be able to carry weapons.
The department would not be directly under the sheriff’s office but would receive training and extra equipment.
Commission Chairman Todd Levent, of District 3, said most employees being moved to the office already have their own vehicles.
“It seems like, basically, it’s a minimal cost to make sure our men and women have a safer job,” Levent said. “For me, it just seems like a pretty good idea all the way around.”
Code Enforcement Supervisor Steve Zaring, who has worked with the county for 11 years and has a background in law enforcement, said many of his staff members have law enforcement experience.
“We know going in that there are perils. Carrying a firearm; I’m all for office safety, 100 percent,” Zaring said. “It’s not what I would think of something; it’s up to y’all of what you would choose to do with that.”
Zaring said the code enforcement department was founded in 2005 and includes five officers, three park rangers and two employees at courtesy desks.
As proposed, the office would also have a so-called “nuclear option,” meaning that Sheriff Ron Freeman, who was not present at the meeting, could decide to shut the office down if he felt it was overstepping its jurisdiction.
“If the sheriff views them beginning to encroach into more of a general law enforcement function, this language would give the sheriff authority to basically go to the delegation and say, ‘They are getting outside the scope of what you created them for and I’m asking for them to be disbanded,’” Jarrard said.
If approved, this would be the first Marshal’s Office in the county in two decades.
In 1997, the Forsyth County News reported the former Forsyth County Marshal’s Office had merged with the sheriff’s office to “eliminate duplicate jobs performed by both departments” and to free up resources.
Commissioners will meet with members of the state delegation that represents Forsyth to discuss the proposal.
Jarrard said if the measure is approved by the state, “it doesn’t require the county to approve a Marshal’s Office. It would give us the authority.” He said then the county would decide future funding, administration and other items.