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Police in the news for wrong reason

Mocksville Town Manager Matt Settlemyer could take a lesson from Terry Bralley.

Way back in the mid-1980s, Bralley, the current economic developer for Davie County, was Mocksville’s town manager. And lo and behold, it turns out that town police officers weren’t acting as they should. Their actions were even criminal.

Bralley tried his best to handle the situation, but one of his decisions was to try to hide the actions from the public. After all, it would be an embarrassing news bit for a quiet little town like Mocksville.

Bralley learned – and Settlemyer should, too – that hiding things that may not make you look favorable is the wrong thing to do. This is Mocksville. This is Davie County. Even back then, before every action was put on Facebook, before every life event was chronicled on social media for the world to see – people knew the real story. The facts may have gotten a bit jumbled with each re-telling of that story, but it got out there just the same.

Later, Bralley called the newspaper any time there was a hint of controversy at the police department, whether it was newsworthy or not. Up front. Telling the truth. It’s a much better way to handle a delicate situation.

Now, here we are again with the police department.

Apparently, an officer tested positive for COVID-19. What really happened and when is in question.

An initial request for comment resulted in a statement from Police Chief Pat Reagan that pretty much said that officers don’t have to notify their superiors of medical conditions. A true statement, but the response skirted around the question. The statement also said the department or town had not been notified by any “health or medical organization” that an employee had tested positive. The question was whether an officer had tested positive for COVID, and how many days had that officer worked after showing symptoms, not whether “official” word had been received.

Two days later, the department issued an “official” news release saying that an officer had tested positive for COVID, and that precautions had been taken.

What happened in those two days to change their minds?

Reagan said he was following directives. We can assume those directives came from  Settlemyer and/or Town Attorney Al Benshoff. Follow up questions to that news release were then answered, because, according to Reagan, those directives had changed.

Governments for far too long have used HIPPA, a federal law protecting the medical information of patients, as an excuse not to release possibly damaging information. HIPPA was started to prevent companies from obtaining medical information on patients and then trying to sell them something. It wasn’t enacted to allow governments to hide embarrassing information.

And as Terry Bralley well knows, hiding any information, embarrassing or not, isn’t easy to do in a small town such as Mocksville.

The issue isn’t only one facing the police department.

Still, there are grumblings. There are officers there who do not like management. That’s somewhat expected, because when someone is promoted to a job, someone else isn’t, and often has sour grapes. They’re looking for something to try to get others in trouble.

And there’s the issue of working together. Working with other law enforcement agencies. Working with magistrates and court personnel. Magistrates? The rumor is that some magistrates don’t want to work with Mocksville police officers. Magistrates have even spoken at town meetings, criticizing the police department. You don’t have to be best friends guys, but you have to learn to work together. Your reputations – both – are on the line. Just do it. We need you to work together. We need you to help protect us, not engage in middle-school like behavior.

We commend the Mocksville Police Department with its new community policing initiative. They’re getting out in the community more, and that’s good. They’re interacting with the elderly, with young people, with whoever wants to meet them at Coffee With a Cop. That’s good, too. We even liked Sarge Butters, who was the department’s mascot before a controversy last summer got him ousted.

Yes, the Mocksville Police Department, led by Pat Reagan, is showing great improvements. He’s a good man with noble intentions. His boss should give him a chance and stop tying his hands with fear of what people might think. And all officers need to quit looking for dirt on their bosses.

This community deserves your best.

– Mike Barnhardt