April 25 – Hall County may soon become a regional hub for law enforcement training in Northeast Georgia.
County commissioners on Tuesday approved $425,000 for Duluth-based engineering firm Hussey Gay Bell to develop an architectural design plan for a new 20,000-square-foot law enforcement training center.
The new center will provide training in an improved, expanded facility for law enforcement agencies in Hall and surrounding counties, according to Lt. Stephen Wilbanks, director of training for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. The goal, he said, is to better equip deputies and police officers with the skills needed for policing in the modern era.
Wilbanks said the project, a joint effort with the FBI, is expected to include more classrooms, a dedicated indoor physical assessment testing area, staff and student locker rooms and additional storage capacity for weapons and ammunition.
“We’ve outgrown the whole (current) gym,” Wilbanks said. “… our current training center only has two classrooms. The new one will have five. We will also be able to use one of the classrooms as a designated simulator room so we can use the computer generated simulation systems that teach judgmental use of force … de-escalation scenarios and that kind of thing. It’s something that’s been on our radar for several years.”
The training center, when completed, will also include a “defensive tactics room” where officers can learn various techniques for control and restraint, according to Wilbanks, who described this as a much-needed upgrade from the makeshift tactics room bureaus used in the current facility.
“Right now we have to tear down a classroom, put out the mats, kind of convert it on a temporary basis,” he said. “The new center will have a dedicated, full-time defensive tactics room.”
Plans for the new training center, conceived in 2016 with a $1.7 million contribution from the FBI, are just now entering the design phase seven years later due to a combination of personnel changes in the bureau’s regional office and aspects of funding, Wilbanks said.
“Obviously funding is a big issue for everything,” he said. “… we want to be good partners in this deal, so we are constructing the administrative phase and the classroom of this project.”
Wilbanks described the new facility as critical to law enforcement and policing in the 21st century, specifically by ensuring officers receive proper training.
“The culture of law enforcement has changed a lot over the last few decades,” Wilbanks said. “What we’re seeing as a continuing trend is that it’s starting to fall back more and more on training … the way the culture has changed and the scrutiny that law enforcement has gone through, I think it’s thrown new light on the importance of training and proper training.
“If an agency is going to be a successful community partner, they have to have a pretty robust training program in place. It has to address more than shooting guns and driving cars. It has to address the academic side of things. We want to have better trained officers making smarter decisions before things ever come to a use of force.”
Assistant County Administrator Katie Crumley also praised the approval of the item Tuesday.
“Part of our strategic plan is to recruit and retain people, and I think a lot of that plays into this whole component of training,” she said. “We really want to invest in our people in multiple ways. I think as we continue to grow, the need for public safety grows. To have the highest level of public safety personnel, we need the right facilities and equipment to train them.”