BOC accepts land donation for FCSO training facility
The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office will soon have a new
training facility in northwest Forsyth, a new policy extending benefits for
families of those who die in the line of duty and new rules allowing retiring
deputies to keep their service weapons.
The changes were approved and discussed at a Forsyth County Commission work session on Tuesday.
Commissioners approved the acceptance of about 17 acres in northwest Forsyth previously owned by Advanced Disposal, which operates the Eagle Point Landfill, to be used for a new training facility.
Sheriff Ron Freeman said his office spends more than $100,000 annually in training costs outside the county and at indoor ranges, which are not large enough for the office’s needs.
“I would have to shut down someone’s indoor range for four weeks to do it, and it just makes sense,” Freeman said. “We do use them for basic qualification when we hire a new [deputy.]”
The new center will sit near property used for a former landfill owned by Forsyth County, though Freeman said the property was never used to store trash.
“It was a mining permit that Advanced had where they took dirt and dug down. It has never had trash. It’s never been an active cell,” he said.
Freeman said a sound study had been done on the property that showed pistols and rifles used by FCSO would not violate the noise ordinance for nearby homeowners and the office had done “anecdotal” tests by standing at the property line. He said noise from certain weapons, such as those used by SWAT teams, could be mitigated.
Hours for the facility will vary depending on the type of training, including some nighttime training.
“We will not be shooting early,” Freeman said. “There are a few times that we will be shooting at night, but we’re not talking 10 or 11 at night. We will try to conduct that in the wintertime, be done by 8 or 9 o’clock.”
Along with the sheriff’s office, training classes will also be held at the facility for county residents free of charge and will include classes on law, safety and self-defense.
“Our firearms instructors will take our citizens in at zero cost. They’re the ones paying for this, I think this is the right thing to do,” Freeman said. “I love the idea of our citizens being armed, particularly if they’re trained and have the abilities to do those things and the decision-making. I see it as a win-win across the board for us.”
Per the agreement, the donated land is only to be used for law enforcement training and any other uses would mean the property would revert to Advanced Disposal.
Freeman said the largest remaining obstacle to the facility becoming a reality is state regulations.
“We’re working with the state EPD to – I’ll say it bluntly – to quit being bureaucratic because we’re waiting for release of the property from what is called reclamation, which is basically planting grass and trees,” Freeman said. “Once they plant grass and trees, they don’t care if we tear it all up and put a range on it, so we’re trying to ask them to accept our plans of what we intend to do with it and let that be the final, lack of better words, reclamation.”
Officials said once the red tape is cleared, groundbreaking will be held soon after and the facility should only take about 90 days to be built.
District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, who represents the area, said she hoped one benefit of the training facility being near the landfill would be less litter along the roadway.
“A huge win for us is getting the sheriff’s patrol cars on the road going to the landfill because those garbage trucks that are blowing [trash] out, I hope they stop them,” she said.
Following the death of Deputy Spencer Englett during a training exercise in Pickens County in April, commissioners approved a new measure to authorize the county to pay for the insurance of employees’ spouses for three years after their death and for county staff to draft a formal policy for those situations.
On Tuesday, commissioners approved the rules for not only law enforcement but any county employees who are killed during their job duties.
“I think it was action that started at the request of the sheriff, and then sort of, ‘the good idea is so good, let’s just make it applicable to all,’ so that’s what we have done,” County Attorney Ken Jarrard said of the county’s process.
“The proposal is that to the extent there are Forsyth County employees … that if an individual – whether it’s a sheriff’s deputy, whether it’s a firefighter, whether it’s an individual in water and sewer, whoever it may be – if they happen to die, just to say it as clearly as I can, in the line of duty, this is a board of commissioners policy that says … the board will fund 36 months of [Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, insurance payments.]”
Jarrard said the policy will also apply to county employees who are injured but do not immediately die of injuries.
Retirement and weapons
A new county policy will allow deputies who are in good standing with the sheriff’s office to keep their sidearms after they retire.
“It’s a policy that is in place in most major agencies,” Freeman said. “Law enforcement officers and their sidearms are synonymous with each other. This requires a deputy sheriff to have completed at least 15 years in good standing with the sheriff’s office, not being under investigation, not being of bad repute in any way shape or form and being able to reliably retire and to do that.”
Georgia law allows for retiring deputies to keep their weapons but the policy must be adopted at the local level.
Freeman said the sheriff’s office currently uses Glock 17s as sidearms and the replacement cost is about $400. Those funds will come from the sheriff’s office budget for now, but Freeman said he hopes to see that cost taken on by private donations.
“It would only apply to the duty sidearm they wear on their belt,” Freeman said. “We will not be giving away AR-15 rifles or shotguns or sniper rifles or that sort of thing. It will only apply to their primary issue duty weapon that every deputy sheriff is issued.”