To Serve and Protect
Jul 01, 2017 08:30AM
● By Jason Huddle
To Serve and Protect
To say there’s a level of volatility between U.S. police and citizens today is an obvious understatement. All one has to do is watch televised news reports for a front row seat to the turmoil.
Never before have Americans been so close to demonstrations, shootings and confrontations. Phone videos, police dashboard and body cameras, and Facebook Live offer spontaneous, in-your-face accounts. But is this always a good thing? Does it not invite anger and hostility on both sides of the police caution tape?
And not everyone is cut out to be in law enforcement. Officers start each day of public service unsure of what – or whom – they’ll encounter. According to WalletHub, “It’s a calling that more than 900,000 Americans have answered, knowing full well the hazards associated with their occupation. In the past 10 years, for instance, more than 1,500 police officers, including 143 in 2016 alone, died in the line of duty. Tens of thousands more were assaulted and injured.”
Salary.com reports that Concord and Kannapolis police patrol officers earn an annual base salary averaging $50,000. The Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office employs 185 sworn deputies; Concord has 183 officers on staff; and Kannapolis, 83. These figures do not include civilian personnel. As our county continues to grow – and in light of the violence nationwide – will there continue to be those wanting to join our law enforcement agencies?
In May, WalletHub released a study entitled 2017’s Best & Worst States to Be a Police Officer. The results are based on three categories: opportunity and competition; job hazards and protection; and quality of life. Benchmarks under the opportunity and competition category include law enforcement officers per capita, average starting salary, salary growth potential and projected number of law enforcement officers per capita by 2024.
Under the job hazards and protection category, police misconduct confidentiality law, police body-worn camera legislation, degree of lethal force allowed for police use, police deaths per 1,000 officers, persons killed by police per capita, violent crime rate, property crime rate and road safety were among the indicators.
And under quality of life, state and local police protection expenses per capita, housing affordability and public image of law enforcement were considered.
Out of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, North Carolina ranked 27th and South Carolina ranked 45th. North Carolina was also the fourth highest state in solving homicide cases while South Carolina was 51st in median income for law enforcement officers.
In a perfect world, there would be total transparency and disclosure between police departments and citizens and, in an effort to close the gap, there is a variety of programs in place in Cabarrus County aimed at education, unification, partnership and protection.
The Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office says, “Community Police Officers are assigned to areas in Cabarrus County, which enables each officer to build relationships in their assigned community. It also enables officers to identify problems in individual neighborhoods by becoming familiar with crime trends and statistics and working with residents in each community to learn their concerns.
“Community officers investigate certain crimes, such as property crime, in their assigned areas, to work with the residents in identifying unfamiliar vehicles and people. They work closely with the Criminal Investigations Division. Community officers also work closely with the Crime Prevention Officer in identifying ways to be proactive by preventing crimes from occurring. Officers attend Neighborhood Watch meetings in communities on a regular basis. You may see community officers at many community and county special events, as an opportunity to get to know residents.”
This program, partnering neighborhoods with law enforcement, enables residents to become a second set of eyes and ears for police. An initial meeting is set up to introduce a community officer to those living in the neighborhood. The officer teaches home/property protection, what to look for and
what to report to authorities. Learning how to be a good witness is key – providing accurate descriptions, license plate numbers, etc.
Ongoing meetings between neighbors bring everyone together and up to speed with regard to what’s happening on their own streets. Contact information – both within the community and with police – is shared. It’s recommended that meetings be held in close proximity to the neighborhood: at a church, home, clubhouse, etc. Calling or providing flyers to neighbors may result in a better turnout.
Project Safe Cabarrus
Project SAFE Cabarrus sees federal and state law enforcement agencies partnering to combat illegal guns, gangs and violent crime in Cabarrus County.
“Project SAFE Cabarrus provides law enforcement agencies the ability to identify the small number of people who are causing the most problems in our community,” according to the Cabarrus County website. “The program is designed to help repeat offenders make life-changing choices by telling them to put down their guns and take offers of help from community resources or face the consequences of law enforcement
“This law enforcement initiative helps us look for ways to rid the community of repeat offenders through either rehabilitation or stiff sentencing.
“Violent offenders need to take notice of the collaborative effort involved in Project SAFE Cabarrus. We are presenting a united front to stop violence in our community by working as a team with community leaders, religious leaders, local businesses, community service organizations, members of our judicial system as well as federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.”
Other programs are geared toward children in an attempt to both curb illegal activity and establish a positive, open relationship with police at an early age.
The D.A.R.E. Program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) “is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug and violence-free lives,” the county website says. “It ‘humanizes’ the police; that is, young people can begin to relate to officers as people. D.A.R.E. permits students to see officers in a helping role, not just an enforcement role. The program opens lines of communication between law enforcement and youth. D.A.R.E. officers can serve as conduits to provide information beyond drug-related topics. It opens dialogue between the school, police and parents to deal with other issues.”
School Resource Program
School resource officers (SROs) have become engrained in the public school system, serving as law enforcement, counselor and teacher for students and faculty. Crime, disorderly conduct, gang activity and drugs exist – even in elementary schools. SROs “develop or expand crime prevention efforts for students; educate likely school-age victims in crime prevention and safety; develop or expand community justice initiatives for students; train students in conflict resolution, restorative justice and crime awareness; assist in the identification of physical changes in the environment that may reduce crime in or around the school; and assist in developing school policy that addresses crime and recommend procedural changes,” according to the county’s website.
The city of Concord has established crime and safety meetings touted as interactive community safety events; they encourage the public to attend. The next one is being held on Tuesday, July 25, from 6:30 to 8:00pm. Hosted by Concord First Assembly’s The Village, at 280 Concord Parkway N., Suite 15, guest speakers include Concord Police Chief Gary Gacek, Code Enforcement Manager Robert Watson and Major Jimmy Hughes (with 2017 city crime statistics). A Question & Answer session will follow.
The city of Kannapolis’ Community Services Unit specifically provides education about crime prevention – to both children and adults – at area events and places of business. Presentations are also held for civic organizations, schools and churches.
Citizens Police Academy
“The Kannapolis Police Department Citizens Academy is designed to foster closer and meaningful relationships between the police department and the citizens we serve. Our goal is to have class participants become ambassadors not only for our department but for the law enforcement profession as a whole,” kannapolisnc.gov says. “In general, citizens can only formulate their opinion of the police department by what they see on the news, or what they hear from others. The academy gives participants a transparent insight into all aspects of our police operations. We want them to experience a very comprehensive view that most people will never have the opportunity to see.”
The 10-week program meets on Thursday evenings from 5:45 to 9:00pm with the next series scheduled for fall; a graduation ceremony is held upon completion. The curriculum includes:
• Week 1: Department Orientation and Police Ethics and Internal Affairs
• Week 2: Patrol Operations
• Week 3: Use of Force
• Week 4: Special Response Teams (SRT)/K-9
• Week 5: Traffic Enforcement Checkpoints
• Week 7: Criminal Investigation Department (CID)/Vice
• Week 8: Firearms and Driving
• Week 9: Crime Scene
• Week 10: Community Service/911
Cabarrus Area Crime Stoppers, initiated in 2003, is a proven success in providing the public with information about local crimes or persons of interest. The fact that tipsters remain anonymous and do not have to appear in court makes it easier for some individuals to aid law enforcement. Rewards are also offered.
Those with information can call 704-931-7463 or send a text to 274637. Visit cabarruscrimestoppers.com for more information.
Nextdoor is a free, private social network for you and your neighbors. It enables everyone to communicate about positive community events as well as crime affecting the neighborhood. Visit nextdoor.com for more information.
Project ChildSafe is a state law that requires firearms to be stored in a safe, locked location within the home.
ReportIt is a phone app that allows smartphone users to communicate with law enforcement anonymously to report concerns or crimes. The app also stores property serial numbers, descriptions, photos and scanned receipts for identification in case you’re a victim of theft. Visit reportit.com for more information.
Gone are the days of Andy and Barney protecting Mayberry with a single bullet carried in a shirt pocket. But that doesn’t mean relationships between law enforcement and Cabarrus County residents can’t be strong and harmonious.
Article By: Kim Cassell
Lead Photo Courtesy: Michael A. Anderson Photography