Roxobel begs for police presence

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 27, 2005

WINDSOR – Speaking on behalf of their constituents, a pair of Roxobel Town Council members expressed their dismay over public safety here Monday.

Addressing the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, Henry Boschen and Alton Parker said Bertie Sheriff Greg Atkins had failed to help the town deal with a loitering issue.

&uot;We have discussed this matter with the Sheriff and have asked him to have his deputies patrol our area of the county,&uot; Boschen said. &uot;He talked a good fight, but when he leaves, everything remains the same. That’s why we’re turning to you, the Commissioners, for help.&uot;

Boschen made reference to a group of men who constantly hang around the downtown area of the town. He claimed that women were afraid of coming downtown, due to what he referred to as a &uot;rowdy&uot; situation with those he claimed were loitering.

&uot;We’re simply asking the Sheriff’s Department to make one or two passes through town a day,&uot; suggested Boschen. &uot;We pay our taxes here in Roxobel just like everyone else. We just want the Sheriff’s Department to make its presence known here in Roxobel just like they do anywhere else in the county.&uot;

Boschen said the Sheriff claimed he didn’t have enough deputies to patrol the entire county. He added that the town had considered hiring a police officer, but there was not enough money in the town’s budget.

Board Chairman Rick Harrell inquired of County Manager Zee Lamb if there were any cutbacks in the Sheriff’s operating budget and if the Sheriff had any current vacancies on his staff of deputies.

Lamb replied that the Sheriff’s budget had increased roughly 10 percent for each of the past three years. He added that to his knowledge, there was only one vacancy on the Sheriff’s staff and that position just became open over the past couple of weeks.

Boschen said he would like to see a deputy hired that would live in the Roxobel area. He stated the last time that occurred, there was no loitering problem in the town.

&uot;I found a candidate that could become a deputy, but the Sheriff didn’t even offer him an interview,&uot; Boschen alleged.

Parker addressed the issue of Roxobel’s existing town ordinance concerning loitering.

&uot;It was suggested to us that we have an ordinance written that would prevent loitering,&uot; Parker said. &uot;That has been done; we have such an ordinance, but it’s no good unless there’s someone to enforce the law.&uot;

&uot;Needless to say, we’re very unhappy over this,&uot; Boschen concluded.

Harrell responded on behalf of the Board by saying, &uot;We don’t hire or fire deputies, but it is our job to make sure our citizens are safe. The only thing I can offer is that we will talk to the Sheriff about this issue.&uot;

On Tuesday, Sheriff Atkins answered his critics.

&uot;I feel we have done everything we can possibly do in this situation,&uot; said the Sheriff. &uot;There is a law enforcement presence in Roxobel. We keep a log of the times a deputy is in Roxobel, or anywhere else in the county for that matter. Just because you look out your window at 12 noon or 3 a.m. and don’t see a deputy on patrol doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not there or haven’t just passed by 15 minutes ago.&uot;

He continued, &uot;We are in Roxobel, in Lewiston, in Merry Hill; we have routine patrols all over the county. But please keep in mind that Bertie is a very large county, land mass wise. With limited resources spread out over a large region, we can’t afford to assign a deputy to a certain area. If we were to do that, it would require a budget that the county could not afford.&uot;

In regards to the candidate Boschen had to fill a deputy’s position, Atkins said that person, &uot;did not meet our qualifications and therefore was not offered an interview.&uot;

Sheriff Atkins also addressed the loitering issue.

&uot;What constitutes loitering,&uot; he asked. &uot;Is it a group of people, that happen to be unemployed at the time, standing on a street corner talking among themselves? If that’s the case, then what about two employed people coming out of a store and standing on the sidewalk to discuss national politics for a half-hour. Are they guilty of loitering? Will they be arrested?&uot;

In general, loitering ordinances prevent people from hanging around a place of business, either inside or out, without making a purchase. Some are written vaguely, without consideration to what length of time must elapse to constitute the term, &uot;hanging around.&uot;

Others are written in regards to juvenile loitering or gang-related loitering.

Some have been challenged in court. For example, the United States Supreme Court, in 1999, ruled that a Chicago, Ill. anti-loitering law was unconstitutional because it violated one’s first Amendment right to assemble peaceably.