A recently announced collaboration between local law enforcement officials and a local university stands to benefit both, as well as the broader community.

Piedmont International University will begin offering a four-year Bachelor of Arts program in criminal justice in the fall, with the cooperation of and contributions from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

This is a big deal.

Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough said the sheriff’s office would be providing “sweat equity,” giving students access to officers who have years of law-enforcement experience. The curriculum will give students a “broad overview of the criminal-justice system,” the sheriff’s office said, including legislation, law enforcement, courts, corrections, national security and terrorism.

It also will train students to deal with new technological threats emerging in the digital world.

That’s something we could all use.

Best of all, the program would prepare students for careers in a variety of areas involving the justice system, including law enforcement, legal assistance and national security.

The program has been endorsed by numerous sheriffs in the state, as well as local officials like Mayor Allen Joines and Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dave Plyler.

With experienced hands providing guidance — well, talk about innovation.

The university hopes to enroll 25 to 30 students in its first year. The program will be fully accredited.

Especially encouraging is a statement from Sandeep Gopalan, the executive vice president of Piedmont International, that the program could do much to heal divisions between minorities and police. The curriculum will include what the sheriff’s office calls “cutting-edge social issues”: human rights, race relations and immigration. And it will train students in how to defuse situations in which they might otherwise have used force.

In other words, it’s a program that would prepare its students for the real world.

Piedmont is a private religious university that requires its students to profess agreement with its statement of faith. But that won’t be a requirement for this program’s students, and rightly so.

“They won’t all have to ... believe exactly what the school does, but they will have to understand and respect what we believe and teach, including a biblical worldview that weaves through most of the curriculum,” Piedmont International President Charles Petitt said.

It doesn’t hurt anyone to be aware of others’ beliefs. But when it comes to law enforcement and criminal justice, officials encounter people whose religious beliefs — and beliefs about everything — are diverse. For citizens to feel confidence in our criminal justice system, it must be free of any hint of religious privilege or discrimination.

Some proponents of church and state separation may be skeptical of the program — especially after Kimbrough expressed his belief that his involvement in formulating it was a result of his faith. We hope that won’t be a problem and expect the university to take steps to insure that it won’t.

With its emphasis on learning from experience and its firm foundation in the practicalities of the real world, this program stands to be unique — and highly successful.

On a related note, Kimbrough also recently announced a new memorial for fallen county officers in the Forsyth County Public Safety Center. It’s a wonderful idea and we agree with county commissioners that it should be placed where the public at large can and will see it.

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