SEBRING — Employed with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office since 2000, Nell Hays has served her community diligently and continues to be an outstanding advocate of the senior population.

“Nell has been a valuable part of our agency for many years,” said Sheriff Paul Blackman. “She is a tireless worker who always puts the interest of our citizens first, which makes her an excellent fit as our Crime Prevention Practitioner and Elder Affairs Specialist.”

Hays became a crime prevention practitioner in 2004, but also holds numerous certifications, such as Florida Elder Crime Prevention Practitioner, Forgery and Fraud Awareness and Crime Data Analysis. She also completed her associate degree in Criminal Justice at South Florida State College in 2004. She later obtained a Master Public Information Officer certification in 2011.

In 2008 she was Florida Crime Prevention Association’s Crime Prevention Practitioner of the Year. Hays serves as the Region 6 Director of the Florida Crime Prevention Association and is president of the Suncoast Crime Prevention Association too.

Blackman shared Hays is always on the go. Delivering presentations and providing security surveys to help residents and local businesses be aware of measures to take, she provides suggestions on ways to protect themselves and their business from crime.

For many years, she did double duty as the Sheriff’s Public Information Officer. “Nell did a great job of keeping the public informed while still performing her other important duties,” Blackman said.

Hays was assigned to full time Crime Prevention Specialist duties when Blackman entered office. Now coordinating over 40 Neighborhood Watch Programs, she also oversees the Seniors and Law Enforcement Together (S.A.L.T) Council. A part of Triad, S.A.L.T. is an organization of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriff’s Association and the A.A.R.P.

Hays’ effort with this dynamic group reaches the region’s large population of active retirees with vital information tailored to their specific needs as well as those of specific communities in the county. Assisted by S.A.L.T members, Hays identifies crime prevention opportunities and victim assistance concerns.

S.A.L.T. addresses the fear of crime and victimization often felt by the senior population. Through a collaborative approach, both local law enforcement and partner agency awareness is addressed. Focused educational efforts and support programs led by Hays seeks to enhance quality of life and afford greater protection to vulnerable populations.

“Nell is our anchor,” Captain Kenny Johnson said. As the head of the Specialized Services Division of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, Johnson has the pleasure of working with Hays on a daily basis. “She organized all the neighbor watches and just recently hosted the huge National Night Out.”

This yearly event seeks to promote community and law enforcement partnerships to make local neighborhoods safer, more inviting places and lower overall instances of crime.

“Nell is one of the hardest working women I know,” said Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler. “She was instrumental in forming and organizing the S.A.L.T organization.” He too lauded her tireless efforts in organizing local crime watches in neighborhoods to increase safety and early detection of possible concerns.

As she focuses on protecting the local senior population, Hays conducts an annual Elder Fair to provide scam awareness and education of local resources available throughout our county. Assisted by current Public Information Officer Scott Dressel, social media posts about possible criminal activity are widely broadcast, helping to further reduce potential victimization.

Hays is also a certified Elder Care Practitioner who continues to strive toward the county’s classification as a dementia-friendly community. From GPS-enabled tracking devices for dementia suffers who may wander from home to intensive community education via speaking engagements, seminars and educational materials, Hays has made a huge impact. She continues to work with area businesses and local hospitals to encourage awareness of the specialized needs of this frail segment in our elder population.

“We are very lucky to have somebody like Nell working for us and looking out for the citizens of Highlands County,” Blackman said.

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