Speaking to the inaugural graduating class of the Sheriff’s Citizens Academy, Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson quoted a speech delivered by former President George W. Bush at a memorial service for officers killed in a Dallas shooting this year.
“Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”
“I think that is so very true,” the sheriff said, “and law enforcement has to recognize that today – that we do that as officers, and the public does that to us. And that’s what we need to find a way to break through.”
Bush’s words encapsulated what is the ultimate goal of the newly established citizens academy, Atkinson said, to promote good community relations by fostering a deeper understanding of what law enforcement really entails.
The group of graduates had gathered at 13 Bones restaurant in Mount Airy on Thursday, to share a meal and celebrate with the sheriff and deputies who had served as their instructors for the past 10 weeks.
The students had been invited to attend the class as a test run for future sessions.
Each weekly class covered a different division of the sheriff’s office.
Classroom instruction was enhanced by a variety of hands-on experiences.
They visited the jail, went on “ride alongs” with patrol officers, practiced taking fingerprints, and experienced “shoot or don’t shoot” scenarios in a simulator, and more.
In his remarks, the sheriff thanked Det. Scott Hudson and Capt. Lloyd Terry.
“When Captain Terry came to work for us in March, one of the first things he did was come in my office and say we need to do a citizens academy,” he said. “He took it, designed it, came up with exactly what we were going to do, came up with the instructors, the schedule, and then recruited Detective Hudson to help,” he continued, “All this is done in addition to what their normal duties are. They don’t get any extra compensation, they don’t get any extra time to work on it, they did this because they thought it was a good idea.”
After the sheriff spoke, Dean Wood, a student, stood to share his impressions and thank the sheriff and deputies.
“I think this has been super great,” he said. “I have made some new friends I’ve really enjoyed meeting…I have so looked forward to this every Tuesday night.”
Each of the graduates on hand were presented with a framed certificate and a pin.
“This has been very enlightening to me,” said Vera Reynolds, a retired teacher who participated. “I gained a perspective of the other side,” she said, particularly by playing the role of an officer reacting in simulated scenarios.
“You don’t want to shoot (the suspect),” she said. “That wasn’t the intent. The intent was to make sure everybody’s safe, the deputy’s safe, and to stop the person from doing harm to anybody.”
Reynolds said she was struck by the “tremendous” stress officers endure on a daily basis and enjoyed getting to know the deputies better as people.
The program was sponsored by Nationwide Insurance as part of its support of Below 100, a national initiative to reduce the number of line-of-duty deaths to fewer than 100 annually.
Pam Morgan, an employee of the Pilot Mountain branch of the company, was among the academy’s first graduates.
Nationwide had sent Morgan for a similarly themed three-day workshop in Ohio prior to her participation in the local class.
“I came back with a passion,” she said. “I just thought if we could open the community’s eyes, we’d have a brand new appreciation and maybe stop the bad press, the bad connotations that people in the community think police officers are out to get us.”
“They want to change people’s lives,” for the better, she said of the local officers. “I want all of Surry County to know these are some very dedicated men and women.”
Atkinson said a recent meeting among sheriffs in the state focused on the need for improving the community’s relationship with law enforcement.
“We talked about what they’re doing in their countries to bridge that gap,” he said. “Fortunately, we don’t have that big a gap in Surry County, and the way we prevent that from becoming a problem is by doing things like the citizens academy.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.