Administrators introduced the training this month for the first time in the department’s history.
“We've never had it here at the sheriff's office, but a lot of my guys have been to riot training at other training locations,” Sheriff Clark Millsap said. “We've got some new employees and we've got people who haven't been and we've got some good instructors here as always. It saves us a lot of money.”
Offering three sessions, instructors touched on tactics for keeping deputies and inmates safe.
“We are working on our riot control, so if anything would happen in the facility, ... where a fight would break out, we are working on different formations, different strikes, different movements so we would know how to encounter if that happened,” said Sgt. Gavin Wilkins, Inmate Work Release/Work Detail coordinator for the jail. “To make sure the deputies are kept safe [is our top priority], and in the event there is a riot, they’ll know how to protect themselves during the riot. And to keep the inmates from harming themselves or anybody else.”
Averaging 579 inmates per day in 2014, the jail is staffed with 16 to 20 deputies per 12-hour shift. More than 7,000 inmates are processed through the facility each year, with about 300,000 visitors.
“... We hope [a riot] never happens, but we want to be proactive instead of having to react and that's what the training is. There's 500-something individuals in the Bartow County Jail and we want to be prepared if — and I hope it never happens again, let me say that — that we do have a riot and our guys know what to do. Nobody panics, nobody freaks out,” Millsap said. “You do step A, B, C, D, E, F, however many steps we need to do to control the situation and make sure that nobody gets hurt, either an inmate or an officer. That's basically what the riot training is is officer safety. It gives us another way to think and another way to react and another to do, so we have officer safety and also the inmates stay safe.”
According to information published by the Association of State Correctional Administrators, prison riots peaked in 1973 and are a rare occurrence now despite growing prison populations.
Millsap said improvements made when the new facility opened in 2011 lessens the risk for violence and limits deputy-inmate contact.
“... We don't have to move them anymore to take them to the kitchen. We don't have to move them anymore to take them to visitation. So the contact, the actual being able to physically contact an officer and the inmates is cut way, way down because of the new improvements that we've had through the building of the new jail and special purpose local option sales tax,” he said.
Although not likely, Wilkins said a riot could happen.
“That’s one of those things that I can sit up here and say, ‘No, won’t happen, may never happen,’ but riots can happen at any time,” he said. “That’s why we have to train for the possibility of one, so if one does happen, we’ll know what we’re supposed to do.”
The jail has in place an emergency response team, but training like this month’s is essential for those not part of that team..
“We've talked about it a lot of times, and you know, an emergency response team in the jail is one of the things that we've put together,” Millsap said. “And, also not only do we have the team, we also have the guys and gals that are back there that are not on the team that need to have the training. Anybody that has any contact with the jail needs to have this kind of training.”