By Curt Yeomans
GWINNETT COUNTY, Georgia (Gwinnett Daily Post) — Gwinnett County residents who attended the Sheriff’s Office’s Back-To-School event at Rhodes Jordan Park in Lawrenceville on Saturday got to see a lighter side of Sheriff Keybo Taylor.
The sheriff was dancing to Latin music as he handed out Banana Boat T-shirts and was smiling as he greeted kids and their parents.
“Just having a little fun,” Taylor said. “You can’t be all serious all the time.”
Sheriff’s Office officials estimated about 1,000 people had attended the two-hour event in its first hour alone. There was a line of about 500 people waiting to receive book bags before the event began.
The Sheriff’s Office had about 2,000 book bags to give to kids at the event.
“Starting at 9 a.m., there were already people in line,” Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Ashley Castiblanco said.
Taylor and Chief Deputy Cleo Atwater said the purpose of the event was, on the one hand, to give back to the community, but to also let the community see deputies in a non-law enforcement capacity.
Sheriff’s Office staff and teenage volunteers from various schools handed out book bags and supplies such as notebooks and colored pencils. Deputies and firefighters were also on hand to talk to residents about what the Sheriff’s Office and Gwinnett Fire and Emergency Services does.
“Years ago, we started the concept of the community-oriented policing,” Taylor said. “(It’s) a concept that I just felt we never really put forward the proper resources to, but now this is something that we have and we have this opportunity to do this.”
There were also food vendors, a radio station, community service booths and private business vendors, bounce houses and raffle drawings for special prizes such as chromebooks.
In all, 27 sponsors donated book bags, volunteers, food, music, raffle prizes or other items to help the Sheriff’s Office stage the event.
Taylor said he also wanted to thank his staff for their work on the event as well as the sponsors and volunteers for supporting it.
“Shout out to how appreciative I am of my staff for putting this on and making this happen, all of the hard work that they put into this, the hours, the dedication,” Taylor said. “I also want to say ‘Thank You’ to everybody who had a part in making this event possible.”
The sheriff said engaging in community-oriented policing efforts, including the back-to-school celebration, is a way to help build bridges and trust between law enforcement and the public.
Trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve has been under particular scrutiny in the last year in light of high profile deaths, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, that involved encounters between police and citizens.
“For me, I feel like community-oriented policing is the law enforcement of the future,” Taylor said. “What better way to start than by having events like this where we can get out and connect with the public. The more and more that the public gets to see us in non-enforcement capacities, we have to do our part as law enforcement to renew those levels of trust.”
Atwater said the back-to-school celebration won’t be a one-time event, and ideas for next year — including the sheriff’s goal of handing out 10,000 book bags — are being talked about.
But, the back-to-school celebration won’t be the only event the Sheriff’s Office does to reach out the community either. The office has already done food drives and distribution events as well as partnerships with schools this year, and it is already looking at events that it can host this fall and winter, such as around Thanksgiving or Christmas.
“There are so many gaps when it comes to peace officer, law enforcement and the community,” Atwater said. “We need events to bridge those gaps and this is one of those events.”
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