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Deputy uses fluency in five languages to break ice on job
Deputy Jon Beival chats with a resident

Deputy Jon Beival is a man who has worn many hats and speaks many languages. 

Throughout his daily routine at the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office South Precinct, Beival uses language to better reach out to people. 

According to Beival, he speaks five languages well — French, Spanish, Dutch, Mandarin Chinese and English — and he knows salutations in about 20 other languages, which he uses to talk with people who come to the precinct. 

“Even earlier today there was a woman … and I heard her English and her accent and said ‘you speak Dutch?’ in Dutch, and she said ‘I do’ in Dutch,” Beival said. “It blew her away.”

He said that nearly every day he has some sort of interaction where he uses one of his languages to break the ice with people and start things off on the right foot.

Deputy Jon Beival takes a call from a resident
- photo by Jim Dean
“I know that it does something psychological to people. If I can break that ice and get a little bit into them representing the sheriff’s office, then I’m doing something right,” he said. 

Beival’s love of languages started when he was in third grade in New Jersey learning conversational French. 

He said that it opened him up to the idea of languages, and things just fell into place from there. 

Beival said that he eventually picked up Spanish while living in California after school. When he joined the Army in the ’80s he found a language that he really wanted to conquer: Mandarin Chinese. 

“I was at the Defense Language Institute for the Army. It is a very hard school to get into, there’s a language aptitude test that is a made up language. And when I walked out of that test, I thought that there was no way I’d get in. But when they checked my grades, all they asked was ‘what language do you want?’ and I answered right away, ‘Mandarin Chinese’.” 

Beival said that even in the ’80s he knew how important China would be in the future so he pursued learning Mandarin. 

“It was six hours of class a day, three hours of study at night. I have never studied so hard in my life,” he said.

Eventually, he graduated from an Army intelligence school in Arizona, fully fluent in Mandarin, taking every opportunity he could to speak the language. He said he never saw combat, but that he used his language skills as an Army interrogator. 

After leaving the Army, Beival took his fluency in Mandarin to the corporate world, living in Taiwan and representing a large Florida real estate company there. 

He said that after a number of years the corporate world seemed less and less attractive to him. 

Beival said that eventually he was drawn to a career in law enforcement. 

“You know, the corporate world, yes it’s interesting, yes you can learn a lot, yes you can make a lot of money, but you don’t have that spirit of camaraderie,” he said.

Beival is now in his seventh year at the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, and he said that he has never looked back, not even after he was wounded in the line of duty in 2017 while attempting to negotiate with a gunman with an AK47 rifle. 

He said that when he got shot, he knew that his partners would run toward the gunfire to pull him to safety, but that in the corporate world that would never happen. 

“In the corporate world they are going to be running the other way; our guys run towards it,” he said. 

“The community, brotherhood, sisterhood we have here is phenomenal. We have each other’s backs. We are exceptional at what we do and I’m proud of it.”

In December, Beival was awarded the Law Enforcement Commendation Medal by the Robert Forsyth Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution for his actions during the gunman incident. According to Chris Russo, the historical group “wanted to give the award to someone who went above and beyond the call of duty.”

Chapter President Alan Greenly said that this medal is reserved for any public servant that makes and enforces law who has served with, “distinction and devotion.”

“Everyone has a job to do, but every year someone goes above and beyond the call of duty,” Greenly said. 

“It makes me very proud to live in a community where we have county and city police that have such high standards, look out for us and aren’t afraid to go into danger.”

Today, Beival considers himself a jack of all trades within the department, helping out wherever needed: whether it is hostage negotiation, interviewing suspects, assisting people at the front desk or helping other deputies speak with foreign citizens while on patrol. 

“My belief is that even in the job that we do, what we are doing is customer service. Whether we are out there talking to someone who just ran a stop sign or whether it’s someone who has some mental health issue. We are providing a service in the community” he said.

Beival said that customer service attitude is why he uses languages and respect on the job to put people at ease. He said that other departments and counties could learn something from the approach.  

Added Beival: “And that’s the reason I act the way I do with the public, because I want them to feel comfortable with law enforcement.”