McDONOUGH — Henry County Sheriff Reginald Scandrett announced a new multi-pronged partnership to bring de-escalation training to the department’s deputies.

Pepsi Stronger Together, The Close the Gap Foundation and the Shaquille O’Neal Foundation are coming together with the HCSO and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office to train 30 department members in de-escalation techniques dubbed Train the Trainers program.

The trainers will, in turn, bring the information back to their sheriff’s offices.

The program, the first of its kind in the country, will show the community the department is ready to put “rubber to the road” and practice 21st century community policing, Scandrett said.

He likened the training to pouring a new foundation on which to build a new house.

“There’s a tremendous gap between our communities and law enforcement,” he said. “We need to get back to the basics and take a realistic approach to looking at where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

In addition to the training, HCSO psychologist Dr. Joseph Hill said the department has instituted annual psychological and physical evaluations to treat deputies “holistically.” Typically law enforcement officers take part in such evaluations only at the start of their careers and if they’re involved in a shooting.

“We want to know how our law enforcement are coping with the demands of the job,” Hill said.

If problems or issues are identified, deputies will be directed to programs to get help.

“This is a new beginning at the Henry County Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “We want them to be working at 100% both psychologically and health and wellness.”

Shaquille O’Neal, CEO of the Shaquille O’Neal Foundation and HCSO director of communications, is working with the Pepsi Stronger Together program to upgrade the county’s youth crisis and domestic violence shelters. Work has begun at A Friend’s House and Haven House to include kitchen upgrades and a food pantry.

O’Neal said he’ll be doing a lot in the community, both seen and unseen, to bring the community and law enforcement together, adding that he hopes to help “close the gap and bring people together.

“Now is the time to stop talking. In my day we had community policing, and it taught me a great lesson,” O’Neal said. “This is where I live, and I don’t want to wake up one day and see one of our deputies involved in something.”

Scandrett the compared the training to soil tilling.

“I assure you we will reap what we sow by caring about folks and making sure we connect,” he said.

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