Leaders pleased with progress

Feb. 28, 2013 @ 07:19 PM

Tuesday night’s meeting about safety for students at Rollins Elementary School drew a positive reaction from the two leading law enforcement officers and the public schools superintendent.

Vance County Schools Superintendent Ronald Gregory believes more work needs to be done, and said plans will be made for another meeting after analyzing data from the initial forum.

The Dispatch sought reaction from all three in the aftermath of a meeting that some members of the public thought would be more about recent crime events. Sheriff Peter White, Henderson Police Chief Keith Sidwell and Gregory agreed it was an unfortunate misinterpretation by some of the public.

Plans for the meeting began in December, shortly after a 16-year-old Northern Vance student was shot to death.

“The difficulty came into play when television media became involved and spun the one-hour meeting into a community forum on crime,” Sidwell wrote in an email response.

White said community neighborhood watch meetings are the place for discussion like many wanted to have Tuesday.

“It is the community watch meetings that I would really like to see packed out,” White said. “If there’s really a concern, that’s where you can discuss those with law enforcement directly.”

Such a meeting was held Thursday but ended after The Dispatch had gone to press.

(A report on the meeting is online at hendersondispatch.com and will be included in Saturday’s print edition.)

White and Sidwell said their roles were to listen, especially to the children, and to be ready for the next step as the series of meetings unfolds. Gregory wants to form a strategy that can hopefully put aside some of the fears children have about their school and neighborhood environments.

“I was impressed with the dedication and determination of our school system,” Sidwell wrote, “as well as with our students in wanting to work with the community to make Henderson and Vance County a safer place to live, work and play.”

“It accomplished what it was designed to accomplish,” White said. “It brought children forward to comment on their concerns and ideas.”

Sidwell said that student comments did not surprise him, that they carry some measure of misperception on what law enforcement can and cannot do to reduce crime, but they also bring a valuable unique insight as well.

“Kids see a lot,” Sidwell wrote. “The comments by the children, parents and residents were inspiring. It seems that (they) . . . understood that it is individual responsibility and accountability, good parenting and being there for your kids that is important. Therein lies the success of any community.”

White said that he anticipates future meetings to have some measure of direct interaction with law enforcement leaders, including himself.

“As the meetings progress, there will be more ideas and suggestions,” White said. “There may be some come out that will help us do our jobs better.”

Sidwell said he hopes his department can be informed on specific information requests in advance of future meetings.

“Future forums should be a culmination of several entities that citizens would like to hear from.” Sidwell wrote. “Questions should be given in writing well in advance so information can be gathered and the appropriate answers given. Any forum should be to gather information, it should be respectful and insightful.”

Gregory wrote that he was pleased with the starting point achieved Tuesday.

“As stated, a lot of work needs to be done,” Gregory wrote. “Our students have some real fears that need to be addressed. There were some people who thought the meeting was about other community issues, (but) the meeting was about our students and making our community a safer place for them.

“We will work with our students and the community on the issues addressed at the meeting as they pertain to our students. I am sorry that the community was misled in thinking that we were there to talk about law enforcement issues. That is not our role or duty. We have enough to do to keep our students focused on the learning process.”

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.