Freeman protests ‘closed’ offices

Published 10:48 am Monday, November 14, 2016

WINTON – Law enforcement: it’s all around us, but is it enough?

That’s the question Hertford County Commissioner Curtis Freeman was asking during the commissioner’s comments portion of their regularly scheduled meeting here Nov. 7.

“I have a major problem with all law enforcement offices being closed after 5 pm; it’s ludicrous that all calls go to the 911 center if you even try to call after that… I was against it 17 years ago and I still am now,” Freeman stated.

He added, “What stirred this up again for me was that I needed the Ahoskie Police recently and called but got the 911 center. I was told they would try to get up with someone and it never happened, but it was really needed.”

In September of 1998, the General Assembly of North Carolina approved Senate Bill 1242, which established the Enhanced 911 Wireless Fund and the North Carolina Wireless 911 Board.  That NC 911 Board approved funding for a grant in July of this year that was used to build a consolidated communications center in Hertford County for all fire, rescue, and police personnel within the county.

With that central communications center in Winton, it closed the 911 dispatching points located at both the Ahoskie and Murfreesboro police departments.

Freeman, who is also a former Ahoskie Police Department Officer, noted, “We (Ahoskie Police) got many calls where people needed an officer right then… we also used to have people run into the police department if they needed someone or needed help.  With all calls going to 911, all that means is by the time the police get there if they are really needed, you’re just going to find someone dead with a phone in their hand.”

Freeman suggested that even having a secretary on duty behind a locked door would perhaps suffice, or a deputy, or both.

“I’ll vote for that all day long… fellow commissioners, I plead to you, we at least need someone in the (Hertford County) Sheriff’s Department 24/7,” he stated.

Addressing Freeman, commission chairman Ronald Gatling noted, “These things should have already been discussed and be in place. Law enforcement in Hertford County doesn’t stop at 5 pm, and it’s not just the Sheriff’s department, if this is an issue then it should be brought up across all law agencies.”

Freeman countered with stating, “Nothing is going to change my mind; we need someone specifically in the Hertford County Sheriff’s Department all the time, around the clock.”

At that time, Hertford County Sheriff Dexter Hayes approached the podium from the audience to address the commissioners. “Yes, our office is closed at 5 (pm), but we have deputies on duty 24/7/365 (hours/weeks/days), and we have had instances where someone needs to run in the building and we usually can have someone go and let them in there,” he said.

County Emergency Management Director and Fire Marshall Chris Smith also approached and noted, “We don’t try to make this process all willy-nilly, but we can’t enforce the municipalities of Ahoskie or Murfreesboro.”

Freeman replied, “I know we can’t do anything about Ahoskie and Murfreesboro, but we can do something about the Sheriff’s department, which is why I’m concerned about that specifically.”

In a later phone interview with the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald, Sheriff Hayes explained, “What he (Freeman) is suggesting is that my office always be open.  Before the 911 center opened, we had a dispatcher that took walk-in people, but when 911 consolidated, before I became sheriff, that changed.”

According to Sheriff Hayes, in the year before he was appointed Sheriff – which occurred on Sept. 26 of this year – a meeting was held with the heads of all EMS and law enforcement agencies in the county, which as a then-sheriff’s deputy, he was not privy to.  In July of this year, the consolidated E-911 center for Hertford County opened and became fully operational.

The Sheriff noted, “In my office now, my administrative staff leaves at 5 pm and the doors are locked, but if anyone needs assistance and they walk up to our building, there is a phone outside they can use to call 911.”

He also added, “There is a plan in place budgetarily where we can maybe come up with some sort of plan to sit down with our (Hertford) County Manager and it’s possibly feasible to put someone out there (in the Sheriff’s Office) 24/7. Can it happen? Yes, it can.”

Sheriff Hayes continued, “If this can happen, there needs to be more than one person on duty overnight in the office due to scheduling, et cetera. I need to sit down with (County Manager) Loria Williams to see what monies are available, if any.”

“We have to make sure the money is there because the budget is already in place for this year, but we might can see if next fiscal year someone can be there part time at all times,” he noted.

The Sheriff added, “There might be (contingency) money set aside for a quick fix possibly, but anytime you create a new position, it has to be voted on by the county commissioners…my job now is to go back and review that plan from the last year and see what is in place in reference to what commissioner Freeman was speaking about.”

He continued, “But I am all for approving and making sure we are 100 percent providing the best service to our citizenship as possible, so if that plan is not working then I will address the county commissioners to upgrade that plan. I need to sit down and crunch the numbers with our county manager, so that’s where we are at right now is to look at the plan that is in place and see if it is working and if it’s not, we need to come up with something new.”

County Manager Williams was unavailable for comment as of press time Friday afternoon.