COVINGTON -- Newton County tax dollars are not at work when it comes to the training received Thursday by Newton County Sheriff's Office detention officers and representatives from 25 other Georgia sheriff's offices.
"This doesn't cost ... the taxpayer anything, but they get a lot of value out of it," said Joseph Garcia, training coordinator with the U.S. Corrections Special Operations Group. "You reduce officers' workman's compensation (claims), increase officer safety, and you will even increase inmate safety by having a well-trained staff out there."
The U.S. CSOG Mobile Tactical Lab Tour is in its third year and is sponsored mainly by Woolrich Elite Series Tactical, a tactical apparel company, and will travel to 34 sites this year.
"U.S. Corrections provides the equipment and assets and other sponsors keep it on the road and bring the training to the agencies out there," Garcia said. "We always look for the top agencies within the region and here at Newton County, they're one of the leaders within the state of Georgia. (Newton County) Sheriff (Ezell) Brown is doing an amazing job. Sheriff Brown in coordination with all his people have invited the state of Georgia and all other sheriffs and their people down for free training."
The event took place at Eastside High School and included lectures, as well as hands-on training in the mobile lab.
Garcia, who has been in the corrections side of law enforcement since 1991, reminded the group that in the 20 years from 1986 to 2006, there have been 26,000 corrections officers killed or seriously injured. There are more than 500 names on the national memorial wall, but he pointed out that little media coverage is given to those officers.
Much like a drill sergeant, Garcia peppered the men with facts and backed them up with actual videos of corrections officers as they died at the hands of inmates, reminding them of the seriousness of the jobs they perform.
"Every 90 seconds a corrections officer is being seriously assaulted," he told them.
"The inmates today are much more dangerous, much more violent," he said. "The sentences are longer. And because the budgets are affecting a lot of state agencies, we're taking away a lot of programs now. We can't afford what we could 10 years ago and baby a lot of the inmates. Now, if I can't offer that same program, what do the inmates do except sit in their cells 23 hours a day? The tension starts building up. They look for excuses to act out or whatever."
The training the men received includes how to outsmart a prison population that is also gaining expertise. Garcia told the men of a new Mexican gang comprised of men trained by the U.S. Navy SEALs. They took the training they've received and are now using it to further their criminal activity. He also showed a YouTube video that demonstrates how to unlock a set of doubled-locked handcuffs within seconds with the use of a bobby pin. He reminded the men that in an instant they could be shot with their own gun while it is still in the holster.
Not only are assaults a threat, but the detention officer's health is at major risk as MRSA, hepatitis, AIDS and TB are rampant among the prison population.
"This program gives life value skill sets for officers, whether it's cell extractions, hostage rescue, riot control inside a facility utilizing the latest technologies or utilizing the latest in the use of force," Garcia said, adding that in the old days jail personnel were expected to use brute force. "Beating up inmates, we don't do that anymore. It's much more professional now and there is a higher level of accountability," he said. "Sheriff Brown has really taken the lead on that in the state of Georgia."
Garcia said his goal was for the officers to see what a valuable job they perform.
"All these corrections officers and law enforcement officers are all professionals. We want to empower them," he said.
NCSO Public Information Officer Cpl. Anthony Washington said though previously scheduled, the training came at just the right time as recent budget cuts had demanded that most of the reduction in force had come from the detention center.
"That's why we're training to increase awareness and let the guys know you have to do more with less," Washington said. "Our training tactics have to improve. We have to be sharper and smarter because of the cuts we've had."