Learning at Sheriff’s Citizen’s Academy


How fast does your heart beat when a Belgian Malinois patrol dog seizes you?

Ever been in jail? Held a brick of cocaine?

Along with excellent schools in Fayette County, we all enjoy living in a very safe community — last year the Sheriff’s Department reported a significant 6 percent reduction in serious crimes.

That only comes with the complete dedication of law enforcement officers assigned to departments in Peachtree City, Fayetteville, Tyrone, and of course, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department — by far the largest of the forces.

To better acquaint citizens with the complex activities of the Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Barry Babb asked key trainers Ryan Phillips and Mitch Howard to develop and coordinate a comprehensive program that became the Sheriff’s Citizens Academy. They and the rest of the participants accomplished the mission in an absolutely superb manner.

As one of the two dozen or so initial class members, I attended a program that ran from 6-8 p.m. every Tuesday for 12 weeks. While much of the subject matter was covered inside the Sheriff’s Department building in Fayetteville, the curriculum also included a number of field trips.

Lt. Dan Tamert led the canine orientation, complete with a live demonstration of a deputy employing a patrol dog. Then we had the opportunity to don a bite suit and experience the business end of a Belgian Malinois in attack mode — very sobering to see sharp drooling fangs meant exclusively for you. Back inside, handlers demonstrated the capabilities of a drug and narcotics dog and former U.S. Marine dog trained to alert for explosives.

After business hours at the Justice Center, Sgt. Gunn conducted a class on security measures the sheriff is responsible for providing to courts and offices there. While I’ve been to the center before, I’d never seen the prisoner holding cells just off the courtroom nor the tunnel connecting the center to the jail.

Major Anthony Rhodes was the primary instructor of session number 8 on jail operations. He explained the complexities of booking, housing, and releasing the population of males, females, hardened and novice criminals, as well as clothing, feeding, and providing them with medical care. Much of the session was conducted in the jail, with a demonstration of extracting an inmate (a fellow guard in this case) from their cell when they refused to comply with directives.

On March 31, deputies took the class to the firing range for a live demonstration of SWAT capabilities. On April 14, deputies presented a comprehensive safety briefing and took us to the range for final safety instruction before closely supervising our firing the Sig Sauer P226 .40 caliber handgun. Even first-time shooters enjoyed this experience.

After the class on use of force, students participated individually in a simulated confrontation where they had had to very quickly decide whether or not to fire their electronic pistol at a suspect.

Other topics included departmental organization, the basis of reasonable cause, traffic enforcement, serving warrants and apprehending fugitives, Honor Guard, criminal investigation, school resource officer duties, and Project Lifesaver.

While all these subjects and activities were fascinating, what stood apart was the team that comprises the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department. In the Army, we’d describe very involved leaders as “muddy boots soldiers” to distinguish them from “parade ground soldiers.” Sheriff Babb is clearly the former.

What you learn with each succeeding class, though, is that every one of the other team members is also a consummate professional, whether they’re sworn officers or staff, uniformed or civilian.

The two leads, sergeants Ryan Phillips and Mitch Howard, exemplify the dedicated, caring, intelligent, and trained individuals citizens rely on to protect their families and property. We are extremely well served.

Sheriff Babb intends to conduct another academy this year; attendance will necessarily be limited, so sign up early and prepare yourself for a very professional experience.

[Robert Ross is a retired Army officer and small business owner who is involved in community affairs. He and his wife have lived in Peachtree City since 1997.]