BR getting community police officer

Published 10:11 am Thursday, October 19, 2017

BERMUDA RUN – Don’t expect to see Barney Fife, but the Bermuda Run Town Council has approved adding a community policing officer through an agreement with the Davie County Sheriff’s Department.

The agreement provides one fully equipped and trained law enforcement officer for 40 hours a week with the assignment to be made under the direction of the sheriff as to days and hours of scheduling.

The new position, which comes with a price tag of $76,220 for 2017-18, is above and beyond what the county offers in terms of overall coverage.

“I believe, based upon feedback I’ve received, this gives us a solution that provides us with an opportunity to do something very positive for our town,” Mayor Ken Rethmeier said in last Tuesday night’s meeting. “The community officer is characterized and operates in a totally different kind of environment than the typical law enforcement perspective.”

The motion made to approve the agreement by Jerry West was approved with Rick Cross and Mike Ernst also voting in the affirmative, and Ed Coley and John Guglielmi opposed.

Cross, who joined the council earlier this year along Ernst, said that doing nothing wasn’t an option.

“We need to make sure we are thinking about how to provide the best safety and security for our people,” Cross said. “The community police officer has to get to know the people in the town. This is not just a sheriff’s deputy that drives around. They have to engage people and get to know the residents and the businesses.”

Ernst agreed. “If we do this agreement, we’re not going to eliminate all the golf carts issues or speeding issues. We’re not even going to eliminate all the car break-in issues. However, I do believe if we take this action, it will start to change the behavior. When you start seeing a presence of a law enforcement officer, your behavior changes. We have heard a lot of talk from citizens that have concerns about security. We represent them, not ourselves.”

West said that responses to a recent survey distributed to citizens regarding updates to the town’s Comprehensive Plan showed that a top priority was safety.

“This is an option on the table that is viable and supported by the sheriff,” West said. “We can kick the can and do nothing, and I’m not in favor of that.”

Coley and Guglielmi didn’t see the value of adding this position.

“Golf carts and kids driving golf carts is a big part of what drove this discussion, and the speed,” Coley said. “Even with this community officer, I don’t think we’ll be able to do anything about that.”

Guglielmi said the carts could be registered going forward but that minors couldn’t be cited for riding in the streets, although town attorney Brian Williams said that the parents could be held responsible with sufficient warning and could be charged with offenses without proper response.

However, Guglielmi, who made the Barney Fife reference in a joking manner, questioned whether the community officer would just be more like a public relations guy and also had other concerns.

“What are we trying to protect ourselves from?” he asked “I’ve never had anyone tell me they feel threatened in Bermuda Run. I’m a little concerned with what we’re trying to establish.”

Guglielmi wondered what would happen if there was a break-in when the community officer wasn’t working, to which Rollins replied that the county’s already established coverage areas by the sheriff’s office would not change.

Then Guglielmi responded that most break-ins occur at night and that citizens may counter that they will need more law enforcement.

“I’m not sure where this will stop,” he said. “I don’t want to see us get into the same situation as one of our towns in this county is in where the majority of their budget goes to police protection.

“That’s why I’m hesitant to give my approval. There’s some gaps here that come down the road a year or two we’re going to have to fill if we’re going to continue our philosophy of safety in Bermuda Run. I have not had one person come up to me and say this was a good idea.

“I’ve had people question or not if the gates were a good idea, but I don’t want to do anything that would destroy gates. Those are very important to a large portion of our population.”

Cross said he didn’t consider this to be a “behind the gates” issue and that the council represents all of Bermuda Run where “there’s a large portion that’s not behind the gates.”

Rethmeier, wanting to provide context for the two new council members, said that concerns about law enforcement coverage have been in play for several years, and the council had looked into its relationship with the sheriff’s office, then under the direction of Andy Stokes, to see if there was anything that could be done differently, including the potential for enhanced services.

However, Rethmeier said that transitioned rapidly into a discussion with the county commissioners and that they weren’t interested in doing any individual employee services but countered with the town hiring five deputies for around $230,000, which Bermuda Run declined.

Rethmeier added that it then migrated into more of a “budget issue than a sheriff’s support issue” and eventually led to changes in allocations of the sales tax in the county.

“That reduced over time our sales tax revenue by up to about $230,000, coincidentally,” said Rethmeier, who had a conversation several months ago with Sheriff J.D. Hartman, who ended up offering this new arrangement involving a community officer directly through his office.

When asked about the agreement, Williams, the town’s attorney, said that it was only  between the sheriff’s office and Bermuda Run – and not including the county commissioners.

Hartman, who became sheriff in Davie earlier this year and was in attendance at the meeting, confirmed that it just involved his office and the town.

“The agreement would be between you and I,” Hartman said. “I would have to have the finance director of the county and the legal adviser for the county to sign off on it, but as far as the commissioners themselves actually signing the agreement, the agreement is between us – between the sheriff’s office and the town of Bermuda Run.”