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Hall County Sheriff: Deputies stronger, smarter
Couch says new professional development program paying dividends
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Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch came into office in 2013 with big ideas to energize and revitalize services to residents. One area of improvement he has stressed is the individual improvement of deputies, including through increased training.

“An increase in the quality and quantity of training has a direct correlation to the quality of work a deputy produces,” Couch said. “It gives them not just the skills, but the confidence in their abilities to perform at a little higher standard.”

Through 2014, deputies’ professional development has been ramped up by the training realm: in April, in-house training hours for officers reached a high of 3,156, compared to fewer than 1,000 in January.

In total, almost 9,000 hours have been devoted to in-house training so far this year, Couch said.

Lt. Mike Myers, who is head of the office’s Training Division, said that an emphasis on training goes hand-in-hand with the fitness program, which he was a point-person on developing.

Couch said that phase one of the program, implementation of physical fitness assessments, has officially begun with new-hires. Eventually existing deputies will be folded in, he said.

From Cross Fit to cross-training in other law enforcement areas, officers can gain invaluable insight, Couch said, offering a few scenarios.

“A patrol deputy that has been afforded the opportunity to undergo advanced training in crime scene investigations may pick up on something of evidentiary value while processing a burglary scene that he might not have otherwise known to look for, leading to identification and arrest of a perpetrator,” Couch said.

That, in turn, might mean a victim’s property being returned.

Knowing what to look for could turn a seemingly innocuous traffic stop into a drug trafficking case, he added.

“A patrolman who has been through drug interdiction training may be clued in on subtle signs that the vehicle he’s pulled over is involved in trafficking, instead of it being just another stop for a moving violation, leading to a large amount of narcotics being taken off the street,” Couch said.

“These are all direct benefits to the citizens and the services we provide,” he added.

And differences in expertise don’t just make or break cases, but can mean life or death for the officer and public, Couch said.

“One of the dynamics of law enforcement work is that deputies may be undertaking a seemingly mundane task at one moment, and instantly be thrust into a life or death situation,” he said. “Proper training and preparation enables them to make that mental and physical transition as easily as possible.”

Couch said he directed the training team to add a full day of range exercises to the program, going beyond the state-mandated annual firearms and use of deadly force training.

“This includes realistic scenarios, weapons malfunction drills and judgmental shooting,” he said. “The deputies are exposed to problems on the range that they may actually encounter at some time during the course of their law enforcement career.”

Couch has also brought more training in-house, including the basic 80-hour jailor’s course.

“This allowed us to save on travel, meal and lodging expenses, and also assist several neighboring counties by training some of their officers,” he said.

School resource officers recently finished a 40-hour class over spring break to enhance safety in schools, Couch said.

One area that has been a focus is driving, he said, citing skid wheels technology the office acquired last summer. Myers, a certified instructor, said that the skid wheels are a way to instruct skills like counterturning, proper pause to braking and hand-eye coordination without expensive hydraulics.

The ones that have taken the class have said it’s “some of the best hands-on training they’ve gotten” in their law enforcement careers, Myers said.

Couch said the office offers a range of other courses, and is gracious to have a “cadre of instructors” like Myers who maintain and update their instructor statuses.