Help is on the way

Published 8:10 am Tuesday, February 4, 2014

WINDSOR – Facing mounting outcry from western Bertie County citizens, Sheriff John Holley went before the county’s Board of Commissioners at their monthly meeting here Monday requesting more sheriff’s patrols for the communities of Lewiston, Roxobel, Kelford, and Aulander.

To quote an old cliché: Help is on the way.

The Commissioners unanimously approved a motion for the sheriff to use existing off-duty Sheriff’s Department personnel for stepped-up patrols in those areas for the next two months.

“As most of you know,” the Ssheriff began as he briefed the board, “we’re having a bunch of break-ins up in the Lewiston, Kelford, Roxobel, Aulander area. So far, since Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, we’ve had a total of 37; and most of them are happening during the day.”

Holley said the total amount in larceny and damage to property in those 37 cases totals over $57,000.

“Items taken in that area include 13 firearms, one bow, 29 flat-screen TV’s, seven computers, nine X-Box (video games), tools, jewelry, money, food products, and other miscellaneous items,” Holley added, as he rattled off the burglarized items.

“I’ve sent officers up there every day,” the sheriff emphasized. “But the officers that are actually up there are officers that are answering calls.  If an officer gets a call in Colerain, then that officer has to leave, and that leaves that area wide open; and that’s basically the same problem we’re having throughout the county.”

Holley admitted that as of Monday, none of the burglaries had been solved; this despite a general idea of who was committing the crimes.

“Unless you can catch them or get some type of information, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Holley admitted. And why I’m here today is to try to get two off-duty officers to work up there per day until we can get this case solved.”

Commissioner John Trent stated that he had received complaints from citizens in the area and also rumors as to where some of the stolen items are turning up.  The sheriff answered that by stating news of that sort needs to be turned in to his office.

“My role is not to investigate crime,” Commissioner Rick Harrell said to the sheriff. “My role is to try to address what needs you have that will help the citizens in that area be more comfortable.”

All the commissioners stated a need to focus on what could be done to assist the sheriff’s office.

When Commissioner Ronald “Ron” Wesson asked if there was still a full-time opening within the sheriff’s department, Holley acknowledged that was true.

“Could you not then use those dollars assigned there,” Wesson reasoned, “to help fund these two off-duty positions?”

When Holley stated that the unused funds for the vacant deputy position were ‘lap salary’, county finance director William Roberson pointed out that the ‘lap salary’ funds, which totaled $11,000 at the end of 2013, were used to cover other items, including department unemployment claims.  Roberson further added that while there were very few available funds as of the end of last year, the way the funds accumulate, there would be available funds in the future.

“What I’m asking is for two deputies to be in that area, not leave that area, and patrol that area the entire time,” Holley said.

First-term Lewiston Mayor Dayle Vaughan attended the commissioner’s meeting and said the town’s lone police officer had been unable to work.

“We’ve got to have a short-term strategy to catch this person”, said Wesson. “But we’ve got to have a long-term strategy to deal what’s happening in the western part of the county because some of the residents do not have confidence that their needs are being addressed.”

Holley said either he or another deputy is in western Bertie every day, whether seen or unseen; and Chairman Perry, himself a former sheriff, pointed out that it helps to have a deputy that actually lives in the area.

“We must maintain the confidence of the citizens in that part of the county,” said Wesson, “because it’s their money that we’re spending.”

Harrell made a motion to give the sheriff the authority to hire two off-duty officers to patrol the area for a two-month period after which the board would re-visit the idea of additional manpower if necessary.  The motion passed unanimously.

Following the vote, during public comments, Mayor Vaughan thanked the commissioners for their action, on behalf of the citizens of her community.