Up & Coming Weekly

April 29, 2014

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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Page 18 of 32

18 APRIL 30 - MAY 6, 2014 WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM Charles Baxley With decreasing budgets and increasing personnel costs, what is your plan to ensure that the Sheriff's Department is adequately staffed to ensure the safety of county residents? I believe there are two major issues that need to be addressed in these times of greater financial restrictions that the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office is facing; the first issue is the "top heavy" nature of the CCSO where the highest ranking officers are being overpaid and it costs the department the ability to hire more deputies to patrol our streets and the second issue is a greater need for the community's involvement in helping to police itself (within the confines of the law). A perfect example of the CCSO budget hemorrhaging money in personnel costs is the annual salary of Sheriff Butler. Sheriff Butler was paid $161,482.57 last year almost 400 percent times the median two person household income in Cumberland County. If Sheriff Butler were to find his way to live on the still comfortable salary of $90,786 a year, that would free up enough money to hire two additional deputies; each at a starting salary of $35,348 annually. This is a very basic breakdown of the numbers, and I understand it does not take into account the additional equipment or vehicle usage associated with those two new deputies. It does shine some light onto the tip of the proverbial iceberg, which is a bloated pay scheme for the other high ranking officers also enjoying considerably high salaries. This includes Ronnie Mitchell, the attorney for the Sheriff's Department, who makes close to $190,000 annually. The questions that beg asking are who is in the CCSO for the satisfaction and pride that comes with making their community safer? And, who is sitting in the CCSO today for a bloated paycheck while a large portion of those in the community struggle to make ends meet? That is an occurrence of what I would call a misallocation of budgeted funds and it speaks to a larger problem of not necessarily a shrinking budget, but a budget that is not being managed responsibly. An area that has a truly greater impact and that I think is underappreciated is the community and how it can be involved in helping to make the 653 square miles of this county safer. As Sheriff one of my goals would be to implement a program successful in Ohio called the "A Safer Ohio" app. The app can be used by anyone with a smart phone to upload images or reports of suspicious activities or crimes in order to help an overstretched police force apprehend criminals before they commit a crime or after it takes place. It has been noted that these days there are few people who do not have a camera on their mobile phone, so I see no reason to not create the "A Safer Cumberland" app to make our community safer through greater involvement between the CCSO and our citizens at-large. I invite your readers and yourself to research "A Safer Ohio" app to see what it is all about and how it allows for anonymous submitting of reports and images. There has been some talk of creating a metro police department, which is a combination of all law enforcement forces within the county? What are your thoughts on the idea and what are its pros and cons? Frankly I believe that the idea of a metro police department is a reactionary concept based on the ever increasing concerns of crime both in the county as a whole and in municipalities and if the idea has any merit it is solely for the fact that it highlights our current organizations need to better communicate with one another. I do not think a metro police department will solve issues but instead will create an even larger entity that will be further bogged down by bureaucracy and inefficient budget making decisions. As Sheriff I would be aggressive in the pursuit of joint taskforces being created with the different law enforcement agencies to combat specific areas of crime in our county and to ensure the most accurate information is being shared from one department to another. We do not need more red tape we need actual action and instead of watching the political battle over a metro police being created we need the actions available to us already from existing organizations. Property crimes and assaults are on the rise in Cumberland County, with limited staff covering a large area, how can you protect personal property? And what can be done to decrease the number of assaults in the community? I again feel that the community needs to take part in policing itself and this is an area where "A Safer Cumberland" app would play a pivotal role. Also, I support Fayetteville's Chief Medlock in his implementation of sector lieutenants, as the policy has proven that a community knowing their officer(s) helps to foster the two-way dialogue that we so desperately need in this county. Beyond the obvious role that the CCSO would play it is also worth mentioning that active Community Watch Organizations have a major effect on crime reduction, and it would be a goal of mine, as Sheriff, to help communities receive the training and resources available to build up their Community Watch Groups. Cumberland County has one of the highest crime rates in the nation. Where do we go and what's the fix? I caveat anyone from fostering the idea of "the fix"; crime is not a leaky faucet or creaking door, and as such, we have to refrain from feeling as if we are just missing a piece of the puzzle to a complete solution. I know that a well-managed budget, a more efficient CCSO, and a more involved and informed community will play a large part in beginning to fight crime. Taking crime from where it is in this county to where we would like for it to go is going to be a war of attrition. Success in a war on crime, such as this one, will not be measured in days or even weeks, but each day we strive to improve on the day prior is a small victory in a greater campaign. If nothing else, we all have the power to fight crime with our resolve, and if strength comes in numbers, then a community resolute together will in the end win over those smaller elements who wish to do us harm. With decreasing budgets and increasing personnel costs, what is your plan to ensure that the Sheriff's Office is adequately staff to insure the safety of county residents? The budget of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office is set by the Board of Commissioners for Cumberland County. Fortunately, in recent years and for the foreseeable future, the budget for the sheriff's office has not been decreased. We continually review the budget and each program and service that we conduct or that we provide in the Sheriff's Office. In addition to the annual review and the budgeting process, we also conduct periodic reviews for efficiency and shift resources to those which are most efficient and most effective. In addition, in the accreditation process, we not only conduct itself review but receive input from the assessors from other agencies who are assigned by the Commission on the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, which enables us to make cost effective decisions. While personnel costs occasionally rise, the County has limited those costs, giving only minimal cost-of-living increases in compensation. While deputies are paid on a substantially lower scale and in a substantially lower amount than many other law enforcement agencies, such as, the City of Fayetteville, we have fortunately been able to provide a great working environment and keep morale very high and to retain excellent employees. We intend to continue to do so. In addition, we have been able to provide important resources, including equipment, technological advances, and other necessities to the members of the Sheriff's Office through the application of funds and assets forfeited by drug dealers to whom we have successfully apprehended and who were prosecuted. We intend to continue along that line as well. As Sheriff, I am responsible to the people, not to a small group who appoints or does not appoint the leader of an agency. Instead, I am responsible and report to the people who elect me, and as a result where it is necessary to increase the budget or to seek additional resources in order to provide the proper protection to the people, I will rely upon and trust the people's decision. There has been some talk of creating a Metro Police Department, which is a combination of all law enforcement forces within the county. What are your thoughts on that idea and what are the pros and cons? The idea of creating a Metropolitan Police Department is one which we have considered a number of times in the past, and which has been discussed again recently. There are many difficulties in attempting to merge various agencies into a metropolitan police department. In North Carolina, only Charlotte-Mecklenburg has acted to create a metropolitan police department. Of course, the composition and demographics of that county are substantially different from Cumberland County, not merely because of the countywide urban density, but also because of the nature of the business climate, economic configuration and nature of the police agencies which were in the county prior to the merger. Cumberland County still has a number of large unincorporated and somewhat rural areas. It does not have a single dominant city, although the city of Fayetteville is, of course, larger and more dominant than any of the other municipalities. However, Cumberland County has other smaller municipalities which are excellent places to live, but which would be required to give up their own agencies or their own operations with respect to public safety, unlike the Charlotte-Mecklenburg experience. The needs of those municipalities and surrounding areas are substantially different from those in areas like Uptown Charlotte or even downtown Fayetteville. Hope Mills, Spring Lake, Stedman, Eastover, Godwin, and Falcon each have their own unique character which cannot Earl "Moose" Butler

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