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Nation's Sheriffs Gear Up for Annual Conference

Next week, law enforcement officials from around the country will converge on Charlotte, N.C. for the National Sheriffs' Association's Annual Conference.

Both training and education on the key issues facing the nation's sheriffs' departments will be the focal points of the conference scheduled for June 20 to June 26.

President of the NSA, Calhoun County, Ala. Sheriff Larry Amerson, spoke with about some of the key elements of this year's conference.

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"We have a number of things we're going to do at the conference," he said. "We try to pack it full of events and activities for our members to expand their knowledge and to have a good time."

A keynote speaker from Israel, a full slate of seminars, an expansive exhibit hall and a two-day training symposium highlight the week's events.

The conference is aimed at making sure sheriffs are up to date on policies and practices and at educating them on pertinent law enforcement issues.

"At the end of the day, every sheriff is a leader," Amerson said. "They were selected by the people in their county and it's important that we go home from our conference with as many tools to put in our toolbox as we can."

Focused on Training

The two-day symposium is a first for the NSA and will be held on the final days of the conference.

Four tracks will be offered including Jails, Court Security, Homeland Security and Leadership.

"Our goal is to have training -- especially regional training for folks who may be in driving distance to the conference, they can come in for that two-day session and get some specific training on areas that might be of concern to the local sheriff," Amerson said.

Courthouse security is one issue the areas the NSA believes need to be paid attention to. Amerson pointed to the killings of two prosecuters in Kaufman County, Texas earlier this year -- one at his home and the other near the courthouse.

"That's one part of our country's security that is sometimes overlooked, but the tragedies that happened this year in Texas show that it is an important aspect of our courts to make sure that they run appropriately and that they run safely," he said. "Sheriff's are typically part of that security process and we want to make sure that our sheriffs understand about courthouse security issues."

Amerson added that the NSA offers jurisdictions assessments for courthouses to make sure they are both safe and secure.

The Issue of Jails

Amerson said that a big focus for the NSA this year has been on jails.

"Sheriffs operate more than 80 percent of the jails across this country," he said. "We are the 'hometown expert,' if you will, but we are trying to take advantage of that."

The goal is for sheriffs to run "constitutionally operated" jails, that comply with the law as the courts have interpreted it.

Jails that participate in the NSA's legal-based guidelines can access a database where its policies and procedures can be compared with the court decisions that have been rendered from the Supreme Court on down the local courts.

"What that does for a sheriff, is that it ensures that our policies are in line with what the courts have directed us to do and we're operating our jails in a very legally-safe environment and that we train our people in a way that complies with those legal-based guidelines," Amerson said. "It certainly important for all of us to do the best we can in that regard."

Tate McCotter , NSA Institute for Jail Operations Administrator, and Gary DeLand, Executive Board member at the National Institute of Jail Operations will lead the training sessions.

Other Important Issues

Simon Perry, Ph.D., Co-Director of Policing and Homeland Security Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel and a retired officer in the Israeli National Police will be the keynote speaker at the opening general session on June 23.

With the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and left more than 200 injured still in the back of peoples' minds, Perry's speech is sure to provide some insight to what can be done to combat domestic terrorism.

"Unfortunately, that continues to be something that we all have to pay attention to, and the Israelis are the foremost experienced people in the world," Amerson said.

Following the Dec. 14, 2012 masacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. that killed 20 students and six adults, there was a big push by gun control advocates to pass new legislation.

More than a few sheriffs opposed potential legislation, but Amerson said the dust has settled some and now there is another issue on the table.

"Obviously this past year, the second amendment and the related issues about firearms ownership and carry has been a big deal," he said. "As we moved along, we're now on immigration, which is obviously a hot topic across the country."

The NSA took the position several years ago that securing the nation's borders is the cornerstone to immigration reform. Amerson also said that the group is open to looking at a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already living within the country.

"There's a lot of people with a lot of different opinions in that area, but it's important that we keep things on the front burner for discussion and that we try to work with our leaders in Congress to come up with a workable solution."