Gwinnett County’s new sheriff made good on a promise he made months ago and formally announced on Friday that his office is opting out of the controversial 287(g) program and disbanding its Rapid Response Team in the county’s jail.
Sheriff Keybo Taylor made the move to end the department’s participation in the 287(g) program and disband the response team on his first day in office.
“Gwinnett County, you spoke and I listened,” Taylor said. “We’re replacing these programs with a couple of initiatives that will address some problems that concerns our community.”
The initiatives that Taylor said will be rolled out are new programs aimed at tackling gang and human trafficking issues in Gwinnett County.
Chief Deputy Cleo Atwater said the human trafficking and child exploitation unit, which will be known as the TRACE Unit, will be tasked with ensuring there is a safe environment for children in the county. He pointed out that Gwinnett County is home to Georgia’s largest school district and said a key to making sure students in the district are successful in school is to ensure they are safe in the community.
“The TRACE Unit will seek out any predators with any intention on harming our children and we will bring them to justice,” Atwater said. “We have already begun working with federal, local and state agencies to achieve this goal.”
Meanwhile, the gang unit will, as its name suggests, focus on reducing gang-related crimes in the county.
“Fifty percent of the violence that occurs in Gwinnett County has some type of gang, criminal street gang nexus,” Atwater said. “It is either gang-on-gang violence, or it’s gang members in the commissioning of other crimes and felonious acts.
“We will further the fight against criminal street gang violence by the implementation of education, mentoring and enforcement.”
Atwater also talked about the launching of a new Support Operations Division in the Sheriff’s Office. It will include the office’s Community Affairs Section and work on some the educational programs aimed at steering children away from traffickers and gangs.
“In recent years, peace officers have been forced to reflect on how we deal with the public and how we interact with the citizens,” Atwater said. “The question that we continue to come to in this day in law enforcement (is), ‘Should we prepare deputies and law enforcement officers to earn high marks in customer service as we do with citizens, or do we train them to run directly into gun fire to save lives?’
“Well, I’m here to tell you Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office will do both, and we will do everything in the middle. We will meet that challenge. We have to roll up our sleeves, and in some cases take off the uniform and meet our citizens hand in hand. We have to be active partners, educating our youth on how not to be vulnerable to trafficking and how not to succumb to the dangers of criminal street gang violence or participating in those activities.”
The decision to end the office’s participation in the 287(g) program is no surprise since Taylor said in an interview shortly after his election that he would make that move on his first day in office.
It is expected to be a controversial move, however, because of heated debates that have taken place in the past in Gwinnett over the program. Opponents of the program have argued it sows distrust of law enforcement in immigrant communities, but supporters have argued it has made Gwinnett safer.
Under the program, the Gwinnett County Jail — which is run by the Sheriff’s Office — places a hold on inmates who are not U.S. citizens and notifies U.S. Immigration and Enforcement Officials to come pick up the inmates for likely deportation. Taylor said law enforcement agencies who arrest people and bring them to the jail can, on their own, check the immigration status of people they are arresting and report the to ICE if they wanted to.
The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, however, stopped doing that at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, according to the new sheriff.
Meanwhile, the office’s embattled Rapid Response Team, which worked in the jail, had been the subject of multiple lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Office because of tactics it used to handle inmates.
Taylor also said, with the Rapid Response Team no longer in place, deputies who work in the jail will receive training on how to handle emergency situations and resources will be put into addressing mental health issues.