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Lawmen address safety

JACKSON – Just as they did last December, the Northampton County Commissioners held a special meeting on Dec. 18 devoted to discussing ways to improve public safety.

Unlike last year, however, only the commissioners and local law enforcement representatives were able to attend in person due to COVID-19 precautionary procedures. The public was able to tune in and ask questions via Facebook livestream.

“We don’t want to be silent about our problems,” said Board Chair Charles Tyner as he welcomed everyone to the meeting.

Tyner opened with an overview of concerns he’d received from citizens as well as a few recent crimes. He emphasized the importance of working together to ensure the safety of the county’s citizens.

“If the county ain’t safe, we’ll put everything we have on hold. We’ve got to have a safe county,” he continued.

“Let’s put our heads together about how we’re going to address these issues and let’s move forward,” agreed Commissioner Nicole Boone.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner added, “Many of our towns are financially unable to support their own individual (police) departments. We (the community) just have to do a better job.”

Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith reported that crime rates in the county were actually down about 50 percent compared to 2019. The recent uptick in crime typically happens every year around the holiday season, he added.

“What are some strategies that we, as citizens, can employ in our communities,” asked Commissioner Kelvin Edwards.

The police chiefs of Gaston, Conway, and Jackson offered suggestions that included making sure doors remain locked and valuables are secured. They also urged people to call the police if they see anything suspicious or see a crime take place.

“What we do depends on how the public helps us,” Sheriff Smith said in agreement.

Smith added to the recommendations, explaining how a home alarm system can help protect homeowners from break-ins with an added bonus of reducing their homeowner’s insurance.

“If we can get our citizens to invest in some sort of home security system, that would help tremendously,” he said, noting that systems usually average about $30-40 per month, but some are as low as $15.

In terms of other security improvements, Tyner said people should encourage businesses to put up more cameras to catch criminal activity. He also stated they’d like to try to get grants to afford adding cameras at “hotspots” throughout the county.

During the meeting, Sheriff Smith also addressed complaints Tyner said he had received from citizens. Those concerns mostly centered around response times and deputies being outside of the county.

Smith clarified that deputies did not have to live within the county but were required to be there when their duty shift begins. He explained that deputies on duty may be scattered throughout the county—or even outside the county to perform a prisoner transport—so their work isn’t always visible to the citizens.

In regards to long response times, Smith said it was extremely rare for it to take as long as 30 minutes or more for an officer to respond to a call.

“Now to a person who’s reporting it, 15 minutes can seem like an hour,” he acknowledged.

“Sheriff, we thank you for what you’re doing,” Tyner said. “You’ve got our support 100 percent. The citizens in our county must be protected.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, the commissioners suggested they would hold more public safety meetings again soon.