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Metro Atlanta Sheriffs, Agencies Join Shaquille O'Neal For Community Outreach Initiative

HENRY COUNTY, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) -- The Henry and Fulton County Sheriff's Offices, Dr. Shaquille O'Neal, Pepsi Stronger Together and Close The Gap Foundation announced a new partnership to bridge the gap between law enforcement and their communities.

"There's a tremendous gap between law enforcement and the community, and people, quite frankly, are tired of us talking," said Henry County Sheriff Reginald Scandrett. "The time is now. We need to stop talking about closing the gap and do something," said O'Neal.

Their approach involves a program called Train the Trainer, teaching 1,000 Metro Atlanta officers de-escalation techniques. The announcement comes as several police-involved shootings continue to draw national attention. Officers attended a class down the road from the press conference at Henry County Middle School. "I want to give them other ideas and other ways of dealing with issues other than progressing up to the worst of the worst," said Scandrett. "We are proud to stand with Sheriff Scandrett and the Henry County Sheriff's Office to embark on this groundbreaking training," said Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat.

The Close the Gap Foundation's Fit for Duty program is also part of the training process. "It focuses mainly on de-escalation tactics with police officers, safety techniques and the methodologies needed to produce safe results," said Close The Gap's Founder and CEO Rich Baker. Mental health evaluations are part of the hiring process and will take place throughout an officer's time on the force. "We look at their overall functioning, how they are interacting with the public, how they are coping with the demands of a law enforcement agency," said Dr. Joseph Hill, a psychologist with the Henry County Sheriff's Office.

O'Neal said the partnership is also about helping neighbors. "Pepsi Stronger, they came down and I said, 'Hey, I want to go across the street and give them a makeover,'" he said, referring to two nearby safe shelters for children. They renovated Haven House and another group home called A Friend's House. "It is an incredible space where we can again help touch and make the lives better for people who are at risk," said Pepsico Beverages North America's South Division President Derek Lewis.

The team says the training and projects are just the beginning of a new era for law enforcement and the community.

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