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Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, UNG welcome inaugural class to new Public Safety Academy
public safety academy
The inaugural class of the UNG Public Safety Academy of Forsyth County stands for inspection before the start of a welcoming ceremony at the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office on Monday, Oct. 3. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and the University of North Georgia held a welcoming ceremony Monday, Oct. 3, for the inaugural class of their new public safety academy.

The UNG Public Safety Academy of Forsyth County was formed in partnership with the FCSO as a way for agencies to offer more advanced training for their students and officers in Forsyth and across metro Atlanta.

“We wanted to have a better trained officer for the future … because we want to leave it better than we found it,” said Dr. Butch Newkirk, the academy director. “And that’s the biggest thing right now.”

To become a police officer in Georgia, individuals are required to complete 12 weeks of basic training. Through this new academy, UNG and the FCSO are going to be offering those 12 weeks plus an extra four weeks of advanced training offered on site at FCSO training facilities.

Sheriff Ron Freeman said officers will learn how to deal with mental health and critical incidents, PIT maneuvers, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and more from instructors working with the FCSO and partnering agencies — the Johns Creek, Suwanee and Gainesville Police Departments and the Hall and Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Offices.

With that extra four weeks of training, Freeman explained students will finish the academy with classes and certifications that officers would usually receive years down the road.

“Twelve weeks is great, but we all felt and knew that we needed [more],” Freeman said. “Just look at the nation. Look at the cries that are out there .… As a community, we hold police officers accountable. So don’t we want the best trained law enforcement officers we can put out in these communities?”

To be able to offer that advanced training, Freeman said he knew they would need to partner with UNG, which has directed its own four-year public safety academy for years.

The UNG academy allows freshman students to begin their training to become a law enforcement officer as they also work toward a degree in criminal justice. After four years in the program, students earn the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, or POST, basic law enforcement certification.

For UNG leaders, the existing academy has been a huge success in bringing fully trained officers with quality educations into north Georgia communities and especially Forsyth County.

But this new academy could also offer another option for UNG students who didn’t know until later in their college career that they wanted to become a police officer.

“Someone could come in as a junior or senior and say, ‘I want to take advantage of a police academy’ and we can get them into a hybrid academy,” said Dr. Doug Orr, the head of UNG’s Criminal Justice Department.

public safety academy
Dr. Butch Newkirk, Public Safety Academy director for UNG. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

The organizations held the welcoming ceremony for the academy’s inaugural class at the FCSO training facility where the academy will take place, inviting university and county leaders to meet the officers.

Capt. Rob Heagerty, head of FCSO’s training division, was the first to welcome in the class made up of 28 officers, a third of whom are women. FCSO, UNG and county leaders then spoke to the class, offering advice and explaining why this advanced officer training and education is important.

“Community standards have changed,” Orr said. “The stakes are higher. Expectations are higher. And if there is one thing I want to drill into you, it’s we want to produce men and women who when they take the oath to the constitution of the United States, they take it solemnly.

“Please walk humbly and do justice,” he continued, speaking directly to the academy’s officers.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Alfred John thanked the officers, letting them know to keep an open mind and always remember to serve the public and their communities.

“I didn’t realize exactly what law enforcement did until I was given the privilege of doing a couple of drive-alongs, and it was incredible to see the sacrifice that these incredible men and women make day-in and day-out,” John said. “These young men and women have committed themselves to a life of service. Just keep that in mind.”

Before ending the ceremony, Freeman again reminded the crowd of the extra pressure now put on law enforcement officers by the public to better protect citizens. He said this academy is what agencies need to help meet that demand and hold themselves accountable.

“This is the first step in getting better law enforcement officers not just for Forsyth County, but for all those communities whether it be Pickens County, Alpharetta, City of Gainesville or Hall County,” Freeman said. “This is the first step in producing better law enforcement officers to better serve our communities, and that is our ultimate goal.”

public safety academy
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman speaks at a welcoming ceremony for the inaugural class of the UNG Public Safety Academy of Forsyth County on Monday, Oct. 3. - photo by Sabrina Kerns