BY WIL CREWS AND KENDYL HOLLINGSWORTH
LEE COUNTY —
Two students in Lee County had the opportunity last week to be “Sheriff for the Day” with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department.
The department announced the Sheriff for the Day contest on its social media pages on Oct. 14, 2022, asking parents who have a child who dreams of being in law enforcement when they grow up to register online.
Seven-year-old Cole Catrett and 15-year-old Dustin Merritt were the randomly selected winners of the contest. The two joined Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones and other Lee County Sheriff’s Department personnel for an entire day — Tuesday, Jan. 4, and Wednesday, Jan. 5, respectively — to get a behind-the-scenes look at what the county sheriff’s department really does.
“The whole purpose of doing this is it’s geared to our community involvement and particularly in developing relationships with our student population,” Jones said. “Just having that relationship that brings them in and says, ‘Hey, we are just like everyone else. We have to go to the grocery store and pay bills. We have dogs and cats as pets.’ It’s just humanizing us. It’s a chance for a one-on-one relationship.”
Seven-year-old Cole, an elementary student in Opelika, dreams of being a “SWAT guy” when he grows up. Decked out in his own SWAT team uniform, he came prepared to learn all about local law enforcement on Tuesday, Jan. 4.
After being sworn in at 10 a.m., Cole and his friend Wyatt got a tour of many different facilities in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and took part in their own training.
“I learned about footprints, learned about hiding, I … was learning about guns,” Cole said.
The two boys stayed busy throughout the day. Activities included participating in an obstacle course, taking part in an on-screen target practice in the simulator room, touring the jail and justice center, seeing a K-9 demonstration with Deputy Van Noy and K9 Bear, learning about room sweeping and fingerprints, getting an up-close look at the investigations unit’s drone and meeting various personnel. That included having lunch with members of the SWAT team.
“They have done a little bit of everything,” Jones said.
Cole has also participated in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office’s Junior Deputy Academy, Jones added.
Cole said he enjoyed the target practice most, while Wyatt’s favorite part was the obstacle course.
“It feels very good,” Cole said of being sheriff for the day.
At the end of the day, Cole was presented a certificate and special coin from Jones.
Dustin, a 15-year-old Smiths Station Freshman Center student, was selected to be sheriff for the day on Wednesday, Jan. 5.
Dustin said he heard about the contest through his mom, who eventually signed him and his sister up for a chance at the opportunity.
When Dustin was ultimately selected, he jumped at the chance.
Dustin’s day started with an oath ceremony, swearing him in as sheriff for the day. He then proceeded to take a tour of the different divisions within the sheriff’s department to learn about the day-to-day operations of the staff.
“He was immersed in a quick demonstration of what each division does, and what their functions are as part of the overall operation of the sheriff’s office,” Jones said.
This included an up-close showing of the detention center, court security operations, dispatch operations, investigations operations, defense tactics training, a crime simulation room and a demonstration of police-dog operations.
“Essentially what he has done today is getting a taste of our different divisions and what their particular duties and responsibilities are and how it all meshes into the general umbrella of the sheriff’s department,” Jones said. “The only thing he hasn’t got a taste of today, that I do, is spend all the time on the phone and dealing with paperwork. I don’t think he wanted to fool with that.”
At the end of a unique day, Dustin said his favorite moment had to be the crime scenario simulator.
“My favorite part is going to have to be a simulator,” he said. “We did target practice. I used to shoot down in Mississippi … so I was knocking them down.”