Citizen Academy participant Ardis McCain at the shooting range.
By Bettina Huseby
Imagine you’ve invited some people to your house. They drive your cars, pet your dog and touch your tools. Then they drink all the sweet tea. Would you ever invite those people back? Nope, me neither.
For two nights a week, and several weeks in a row, the Pickens Sheriff’s Office invited me and some other people to their house (the Big House on Camp Road). We drove their cars, pet their dog, touched their tools and drank all the sweet tea. Somehow, they seemed to enjoy it.
Using grant money designated for public education, Lieutenant Ernie McArthur thought up the Citizens Academy, but then he had to sell the idea to Sheriff Craig. Teaching taxpayers a few factoids is one thing, but letting them drive cars and shoot guns is something else. But Sheriff Craig trusted Ernie, whose instincts are good and boyish charm even better. He knew he was onto something great.
The deputies took us deep into life at the sheriff’s office. Each time we met there was catered-in food. And we went on field trips. We solved a “crime,” ran scenarios and saw a mock courtroom proceeding. On the last class, we fired guns and rifles at the shooting range. The deputies put on two impressive training scenarios, one with real bullets. Students with good attendance “graduated” at the end of 13 weeks with a certificate and a free T-shirt from Sharp Mountain Graphics.
Ernie had us “pair up in threes” and tour the administrative offices. We saw the jail where the world’s biggest front-loading washing machine lives. The kitchen was equally impressive. On the shelf sat a box of sporks. I despise sporks. Not a spoon and not a fork … sporks are an incentive to stay on the right side of the law.
We learned it costs $5 per day to feed a prisoner. “What do they like to eat?” I asked Captain Sherman McEntire. “Whatever we give ’em!” He replied, with a smile at the corner of his mouth. I suspected the food is pretty good.
We met actual prisoners and saw they’re people just like us. In fact, I saw a guy I knew standing over on the other side of the room. I think he saw me, but I’m not sure. When I looked at him he was looking somewhere else. When he looked at me I was looking somewhere else. This kept happening during the question and answer segment. Polite queries were made and polite answers returned. I thought they were very kind to put up with our intrusion.
Did you know the jail (ADC) is more of a holding facility than anything else? The prisoners are there awaiting court dates. Deputies truly aren’t in the punishment business. They’re caretakers. Sergeant Brett McDaniels is responsible for quite a lot at the jail, and he seems to enjoy his work. I would feel good knowing he’s there if I had a loved one incarcerated.
Each class was catered by someone different: Bojangles, Big-Uns, Madeline’s, Papa John’s and the PCSO Auxiliary. Tina Tidwell who works in Training and Records and Marcie Young who handles Human Resources acted as hostesses each night. Both ladies made sure we felt at home.
There were guest speakers, way too many to list here. But they weren’t boring. We had fun meeting Lieutenant Blecky. He’s the black German shepherd police dog.
There was the choice to ride with a patrol deputy, followed up by a mandatory oral report. What fun those were! Our elected class President, Jeffery Anderson, nearly starved on his 12-hour ride-along which was full of activity. Eventually, he and his deputy split a granola bar down the middle for sustenance.
I got to be in a scenario. They gave me a pellet gun and keys to the Tahoe. I “pulled over” Corporal Chris Leake who was wearing Kevlar and a sturdy motorcycle helmet. He pretended to be crazy and repeated everything I said.
“Stay in the car.” He got out of the car.
Then he pulled out his own pellet gun and put it to his own head. This is when I fell apart. I had no idea what to do besides wave my pellet gun around too. So they called “time.” Corporal Leake hugged me and took my pellet gun away.
Then I understood. Scenarios are a part of their training and it will never stop. As the world changes, so must they. I wonder how many citizens realize what a sophisticated group we’ve got looking out for us. They know a lot. They do a lot. We’re lucky to have them.
At the closing banquet, Sheriff Craig said, “It takes all different kinds of people to make this thing operate. Our desire was to share as much as possible about what we do. It put deputies in contact with good citizens. It was a real boost to morale.”
It’s a concerted effort to take care of us. The SO works with 911 and the other public safety agencies. How can we help? One way is to take the same class I did. You’ll have a blast and be ready for what may come in your own day-to-day life. To take a page out of their playbook, preparation is the key.
To sign up for the third Citizens Academy, go to http://www. pickensgasheriff.com
www. pickensgasheriff.com for a downloadable application. Or, apply in person at 2985 Camp Road, Jasper, Ga. 30143. Phone: 706-253-8900.