Cover Stories — 24 September 2013

Sheriff ’s Office Programs Help Protect, Empower Citizens

 - By Katie Lamar Jackson

While fighting crime is a constant in the lives of Lee County Sheriff’s Office personnel, preventing it is so much better.

That is, in fact, a primary objective for Sheriff Jay Jones, who is always looking for ways to keep bad situations from evolving and thwart crime by giving citizens the tools they need to take action if they are victimized, but, “better yet, to actually prevent them from being victimized in the first place.”

While that objective is certainly a priority for all divisions of the Sheriff’s Office, it is the primary role of the agency’s School Resource and Training Division: Sergeant Dennis Harrell and deputies Heather Norred, Jody Williford, Tommy Threat, Rob Alexander and Pamela Revels. This remarkable team is responsible for a variety of community outreach programs aimed at preventing crime, helping citizens protect themselves and building community support.

Lee County School System-based Too Good for Drugs and Violence programs are among the top programs, which are designed to keep young people out of trouble by building their self-esteem, encouraging them to excel and, when needed, providing early intervention services.

Too Good, which is similar to the well-known DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs, is a K–12 school-based prevention program that can be easily adapted to fit the needs of individual schools and that focuses on building self-worth and parental involvement beyond saying “no” to drugs or violence.

“It is not just about telling students that they should not do something,” said Revels, the Sheriff’s school resource officer who also works in a variety of other community training and education capacities. “It’s about building self-esteem, giving them the tools to make the right choices and teaching them that they really are too good for bad grades, being disrespectful or being a bully. We want to them to learn self-respect so they will not want to hurt their bodies with drugs or make negative decisions that will affect their future.”

Another program that Revels helps facilitate is the Junior Deputy Academy, a week-long summer camp for children aged 7–12 during which participants learn to snap to attention, march in formation, sing cadence and tackle an obstacle course, but, more importantly, they learn about integrity, honor, respect, pride and teamwork.

By the end of the week, the junior deputies leave feeling empowered, have a better understanding of law enforcement and, as Revels said, “they know that we are here to help them.”

The junior deputies also leave behind an exhausted group of Sheriff’s Office staff members who were so tired after one of this summer’s sessions they could barely gather the strength to go home.

The Sheriff’s Office also provides fun and effective personal safety programs based on the internationally recognized RAD (Rape. Aggression. Defense.) holistic self-defense education program. RAD for women and radKIDS classes are offered free-of-charge throughout the year, teaching women of all ages and abilities and children ages 5–12 how to be safe at home, school, work or anywhere in the community. The Sheriff’s Office also cooperates with Auburn University to offer a one-hour semester credit course on personal safety for female students.

“When it comes to personal safety,” said Revels, who helps teach the RAD classes, “the best option is to keep from being a victim.”

“The RAD program is about empowerment and giving good information on, number one, prevention,” explained Revels, saying the course is less about physical self-defense than it is about mental readiness.

“Ninety percent of self defense is not even physical. It’s about awareness and making yourself look like a hard target and not look like a victim,” said Revels.  With that in mind, the course offers a mix of lectures, practical self-defense exercises and a final simulation during which participants can test their skills by fighting off the Red Man, a brave male RAD instructor clothed in a thick layer of red padding.

“It is awesome to watch this class evolve,” said Revels.  “Most of these women are southern ladies who have been taught to be nice and polite, and some of these women don’t even know how to make a fist.”

But once they’ve had the class and gone up against the Red Man, many of them discover their inner feistiness.  “After the simulation, they come bouncing out and say  ‘put me back in,’” laughed Revels.  “Sometimes we even have to call them off the Red Man.”

Since the ultimate goal of the class is empowerment, Revels is delighted by their show of confidence. “We want them to walk out saying ‘I can do this.  I can take care of myself,’” she said.

“I would rather teach a thousand classes and not hear that one person has been attacked than to go out and take a crime report,” said Revels. For those who can’t do the 12-hour RAD courses, active shooter training and other community safety programs, she and her coworkers are always available to present training courses, such as shorter workplace and personal-safety sessions to interested groups, businesses, schools and community organizations.

All of these outreach and training programs are paid for through internal funds, such as monies collected through pistol permit fees and donations. Should more resources become available (and donations are always welcomed), Jones and Revels have a long wish list, including  more programs and personnel to ensure school safety and anything that helps further their message of crime prevention and community safety.

But they also believe that making Lee County safer hinges on collaboration and communication.

The Sheriff’s Office has always enjoyed a close and productive working relationship with other area law enforcement agencies, now enhanced by a new, shared information platform.

“For the first time in history we are all on the same software program, which allows seamless information sharing that will enhance our ability to do our jobs by bringing all resources together to focus on problems,” Jones said.

But the public is also vital to community safety. “I believe our primary focus should be community interaction and involvement,” said Jones.  “Our intention, attitude, goal and mission is to work with the folks we are serving. Their support is so critical.”

The Sheriff’s Office strives to engage the public in many ways, most easily through their website (www.leecountysheriff.org), which is chock full of information on classes, initiatives and day-to-day details about the agency.  They also have a Facebook page and a new, free Lee County Sheriff’s Office app for iPhone and Droid that allows citizens to report crimes, receive alerts and view news stories and other items of interest.

But nothing beats the human connection that Revels and her fellow officers and staff make through their interactions with the public. According to Jones, they are the key to building a spirit of community between citizens and law enforcement.  And they all work hard to reach that goal.

“We try to ensure we do that every day,” said Jones. “It is truly a partnership.”

Learn More

A wide array of personal safety classes and programs are available through the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and other organizations and agencies in the area.

Below is a partial list of programs offered through or in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office.

Rape. Aggression. Defense. (RAD) classes for women
Offered free through the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, this comprehensive, women-only course begins with awareness, prevention, risk reduction and risk avoidance, while progressing to the basics of hands-on defense training. Contact: Corporal Pamela Revels, Lee County Sheriff’s Office, prevels@leecountysheriff.org or 334-319-4173

radKIDS
Also offered free through the Sheriff’s Office, radKIDS is a personal empowerment safety education program that educates and enhances the ability of children, parents and families to protect themselves from violence and harm by leveraging their own knowledge, skills and power. Contact: radkids.lcso@yahoo.com or phone Corporal Pam Revels at 334-319-4173 or Deputy Jessica Daley at 334-319-0325.

Yellow Dot Program
Yellow Dot is a free program that helps citizens after an automobile accident, when they may be unable to communicate vital personal health information. Contact: Learn more at www.leecountysheriff.org or by calling 334-749-5651.

Project Lifesaver
Designed to help locate individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, autism, dementia, mental impairments or brain-related disorders if they should become lost or disoriented. Contact: jmajors@leecountysheriff.org or call 334-749-5651

Are You Ok?
This telephone reassurance program helps family members stay in contact with elderly or homebound individuals or latch-key children through an automated call system. Contact: 334-749-5651

Auburn University also offers a variety of public safety training programs including for-credit and community courses.  To learn more about these contact the Auburn University Department of Public Safety at www.auburn.edu/administration/public_safety/.

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