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‘We are nothing without our community’: Sheriff’s office hears public comments over accreditation process
Forsyth County residents were able to step up and share their thoughts about local law officers on Monday as part of the Forsyth County’s Sheriff’s Office’s effort to become nationally accredited by the Commission on Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). - photo by Alexander Popp

At a community public comment meeting held Monday, representatives from the international law enforcement accreditation agency, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies or CALEA, heard from local residents on their thoughts about the performance of Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. 

During the meeting, representatives heard comments from local residents, business owners and representatives from the local school system and state government, all of which unanimously voiced their approval of the agency.

Steve Honn, school safety coordinator for Forsyth County Schools spoke first, talking about the collaboration that exists between the school system and sheriff's office. Honn explained that nearly every part of school safety in the school system involves the sheriff’s office in some capacity, from hiring and placement of school resource officers to the creation and implementation of safety practices at specific schools.

"I really feel like we are blessed to have them on our side,” Honn said. “There is nothing that they won’t do for us and likewise we try to give them the same in return.”

Honn said that after the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla., in early 2018, the school system, sheriff's office and Forsyth County Fire Department took their collaboration to the next level, creating a school safety task force to look for ways to improve safety at schools.

"We can always look at double entryways, we can look at additional bulletproof glass, but what we did is decided that it’s better if we had some people that were willing to be mentors to our children and our students," he said. "I'm just so proud to work with them and that they agreed that this was our best move going forward.”

Another local resident, Cathy Schroeder, also took her time at the microphone to thank the sheriff’s office for the work that she has personally witnessed them doing in the community.

Schroeder said that she appreciated how the sheriff's office engages the community with trainings like active shooter drills and with programs like S.A.L.T. (Seniors and Lawmen Together). 

"I really appreciate that the department is striving for professionalism, they are always training, trying to better themselves and better serve the public," she said. "It really gives citizens a great perspective of what goes on.”

According to Patricia Garrison, CALEA investigator and Chief-Deputy of the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, the process of gathering comment from the public is a vital part of the CALEA accreditation process and allows them tap into the temperature of the community to find out how a department is off paper.

"We only survive if we are a part of and not apart from our community," Garrison said after the meeting Monday. "We are nothing without our community.”

Garrison said that she salutes the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office for its enthusiasm to gain advanced accreditation with CALEA, reiterating how important that accreditation is to the public.

"As a law enforcement officer, as a parent, as a citizen, I am a real believer in accreditation,” she said. “We don't send our kids to schools that aren’t accredited, we don't go to hospitals that aren't accredited and I think that this is something that is an outside view that says that best practices are being followed." 

Now that the public comment section of the accreditation process has concluded, Garrison said she and a colleague will now review the sheriff's office from top to bottom and their findings will be submitted to the commission.

Anyone who wishes to provide comments to the assessment team but was unable to attend the meeting can do so by mail.

Written comments can be sent to: Center on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Inc., 13575 Heathcote Blvd., Suite 320 Gainesville, VA 20155.