Ahoskie PD gains added funds

Published 5:16 pm Friday, May 12, 2023

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AHOSKIE – The Ahoskie Police will benefit from a financial boost from the town’s budget to use in an effort to curb a recent rise in shootings.

At their monthly meeting here Tuesday, the Ahoskie Town Council approved an amendment to the current year budget that adds $30,000 to pay for overtime for police officers and $15,000 for crime prevention.

“This budget amendment is needed as the result of the recent and escalating violence and crime within our town,” said Town Manager Leigh Etheridge. “I am requesting approval of this budget amendment to allow for additional overtime for the police department and crime prevention expenditures. Your approval of this amendment will allow for increased police presence in patrolling our streets as well as operational funding to help mitigate this problem.”

On a motion from Councilman Charles Freeman and a second from Councilwoman Linda Blackburn, the motion budget amendment was approved without objection.

After hearing from the public earlier in the meeting about their concerns over the growing level of gun-related crimes in town, Mayor Weyling White said he was pleased with the passage of the amendment.

“It’s an investment in intervention,” White said. “The safety of our citizens needs to be the top priority of this Council. Crime causes our growth to stagnant and forces some to leave here. Whatever we can do to support our police is a step in the right direction. I hope we can continue to invest in our police department in our upcoming new budget.”

Ahoskie Police Chief Jimmy Asbell thanked the Council for their approval of the budget amendment.

Asbell said that although his department is fully staffed, the increase in the number of gun-related crimes has led to his officers having to work past their normal 12-hour shift.

“That affects their next shift as I have to send them home early in order to keep overtime in check,” Asbell noted. “By ya’ll approving this budget amendment, this will mitigate the issue with the overtime and allow us to keep officers on the streets in full strength.”

Asbell added that the extra funding for crime prevention will allow him to assign more officers in what he termed as “high crime areas.”

“We have identified those areas where most of the shootings have occurred here in town,” Asbell said. “We will use saturation patrols in those areas on a daily basis. This extra funding will allow us to use the staff we already have on those daily shifts as well as add staff who are on their off days to work extra shifts.”

Another crime prevention measure is working with the federal court system that will allow the Ahoskie Police the opportunity to seek more active jail/prison sentences and gun enhancement charges for violent offenders.

“The downside to that is we’re seeing more violent crimes now from juveniles,” Asbell stressed. “Because of their age [under 18], federal prosecution does not apply to them.”

He added that several years ago, the North Carolina General Assembly approved “Raise the Age” legislation that changed the age of juveniles, when applicable to a crime, from 16 to 18.

“Prior to that, if a 16 or 17-year-old individual committed a crime they were treated like an adult,” Asbell said. “What happens now is when we arrest a juvenile, they don’t necessarily get secured custody. What that means is, depending on how violent the crime is, we have to call their parents and release the juvenile into their custody.”

In the meantime, Asbell said that fact doesn’t deter his officers from doing their jobs.

“We’re doing our very best to investigate these crimes and build our cases for the judicial system to handle,” he stated. “One of the bigger problems we’re facing is that there are those in the public who have seen or heard things we need to know to help with our investigation but they’re not willing to come forward and provide that information. Some will share information, but when you ask them where they obtained it from they will not give out that information in fear of retaliation.”

Asbell said what is known at this point is that those involved in the recent rash of shootings, most of which are at dwellings, are on foot, dressed in dark clothing, and wearing face coverings/hoodies, which makes them harder to identify.

“Most of these shootings are happening at night. They are not random acts of violence. They are targeted shootings between rival juvenile gang members,” he said. “We have collected information from residential security cameras showing vehicles passing through these neighborhoods that we believe are occupied by individuals doing surveillance on who they are looking for. That vehicle then leaves the general area and the occupants will get out on foot, using the woods and people’s property as cover to make their way to the target. They do their shootings and in less than 30 to 45 seconds it’s over and they’re gone. By the time we get the call, that lag time of a minute to 90 seconds allows the suspects to flee undetected.”

Asbell added that by the time his officers arrive, so do the bystanders.

“That crowd can easily grow to as many as 30-to-40 people, causing us to have to increase the number of officers on the scene just to handle crowd control,” he remarked.

The police chief stressed that he understands the frustrations of the community over the fact that arrests in these cases haven’t been swiftly made.

“I carry a lot of weight on my shoulders to provide protection for this town,” Asbell said. “I’ve worked here for 30 years and I’ve never seen it this bad. It’s everywhere…in the county, in Murfreesboro, in Bertie and Northampton counties. We’re doing all we can, working with all the local and state agencies, to make our streets and neighborhoods safer.

“I have a highly qualified and highly trained staff and we can call on our county Sheriff’s Office and the SBI for help, but what we need the most is for members of our community to call us and share information with us. We don’t need your name, just your information that will point us in the right direction,” Asbell concluded.

Mayor White noted there is also a need to invest in community work that goes hand-in-hand with crime prevention.

“I’ve had discussions with a national violence prevention group who is looking to partner with us,” White stated. “We’re very excited about that opportunity. We need to address this issue from all angles, to include working with the Hertford County United group. We have scheduled a ‘Stop the Violence’ summit next month.”

Councilman Roy Sharpe inquired about the possibility of the town installing surveillance cameras in high crime areas.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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