Better safe than sorry

Published 8:42 am Tuesday, March 8, 2011

WINDSOR – Two national incidents have changed local policy.

Bertie County Sheriff John Holley has begun providing a deputy for a trio of local meetings following incidents that gained national exposure when public officials were attacked.

“I’m not expecting any trouble, but I’d rather be safe than sorry,” Sheriff Holley said. “The two national incidents, I believe, got everyone’s attention and it made sense to be safe.”

One of the incidents in question was the January shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. She was shot during a public appearance in her home district.

In December, a man drew a gun and fired at a meeting of the Bay District School Board in Florida. He fired shots at the school district’s superintendent and board chairman before being killed by a security guard.

Those incidents have led to tighter security throughout the nation, but specifically have affected meetings of the Bertie County Commissioners and Bertie County Board of Education as well as Small Claims Court.

“After those incidents, I thought it was best to have someone there,” Sheriff Holley said. “I would rather not need them and have them there than to need them and not have them.”

The sheriff said he saw it as part of his elected duty.

“My thought is that I was elected to protect and serve,” he said. “I believe we are doing both by having a deputy in the meeting. My focus is protecting the citizens of Bertie County and this is another way to do that.”

Bertie County Commissioner Chairman L.C. Hoggard III said he and other commissioners were appreciative of the sheriff’s decision.

Hoggard said shortly after the incident in Florida, he noticed a deputy at the commissioners’ meeting.

“I went to thank him for being there and found out he was assigned by the sheriff,” he said. “I know the commissioners were grateful for it.”

The board chairman said he knew Bertie County had good people and that it was unlikely the deputy would ever be needed, but he was glad Sheriff Holley chose to have an officer at the meetings.

“We have a nice, safe community,” Chairman Hoggard said. “There is no doubt in my mind about that. I pray that nothing would ever happen in Bertie County or any of our surrounding counties, but it is a great initiative.

“Vigilance is important and, in this day and time, I don’t think we can be cautious enough,” he added.

Bertie County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Will Crawford said he was also pleased to have the deputies in the school board meetings.

“I applaud Sheriff Holley for doing this,” Dr. Crawford said. “You can’t be too careful. We cannot be a community that says it can’t happen to us or won’t happen to us, because it has happened everywhere.

“Having a person there may cause those who have that mindset to think twice,” he added. “It is certainly better to err on the side of caution.”

It is that exact caution which caused Sheriff Holley to make the decision to place the deputy at the three locales.

“We haven’t had any incidents where we’ve even been called to a meeting, but it is the safe thing to do to have the officers there,” Sheriff Holley said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Sheriff Holley has even spent time in the meetings himself.

“I don’t have a problem with being there myself,” he said. “I’m not going to ask my officers to do anything I wouldn’t do or haven’t done already.”

The officers began attending meetings earlier this year.