Vance sheriff, Henderson police have dialogue with community
A crowd of more than 100 visited with law enforcement officers Thursday night in the first of three Henderson-Vance Community Watch Association meetings.
Held in the auditorium of the Maria Parham Medical Center, the gathering produced several ideas and strategies, including better youth outreach, a gun buyback program, civil evictions, gun safety training, more specifics about crime incidents, more members with more eyes open and more calls about suspicious activity when it starts.
Watch neighbors participated in a question-and-answer style format and heard from Vance County Sheriff Peter White and Capt. Perry Twisdale of the Henderson Police Department. An urgent matter prevented Police Chief Keith Sidwell from attending.
Twisdale said although crime statistics are heading in the right direction, no crime is easy on a victim, especially in devastating circumstances.
White said his office has responsibility for 720 square miles of jurisdiction, and deputies need the partnership of watchful neighbors to help make Vance County safer.
"We can't be everywhere all the time," White said.
That point was repeated by Gene Wood, vice chairman of the association, who added that as soon as suspicion is felt, make the call.
"If you see something, your first weapon is your telephone," Wood said. "Dial 911."
Wood said the association is strong and membership is growing, with 41 groups active.
"I was approached today by some interested in starting a new group," Wood said. "The more eyes we have looking, the better off we all are."
"We work hard everyday to make things better," Twisdale said, noting in his report on police activity that the federal safe neighborhoods program since 2010 has taken 53 targeted serious offenders to task in federal courts on gun charges, most onward to federal prison.
White said deputies’ work with other law enforcement agencies is also yielding results, including for those in Vance County headed north toward Virginia and those in Virginia coming south.
On recent carjacking and murder incidents, White and Twisdale detailed what the incidents were, adding that in addition to those are rumors of incidents that did not actually happen.
There were five carjacking incidents since late January in the city and two in the county, and two of those included sexual assault, one in the city and the other in the county.
"As of this meeting there have been no others in the city of Henderson," Twisdale said. "All of the rumors of other attacks are simply not true."
On the three homicides in February, Twisdale said arrests have been made in each, and "more arrests may be announced very soon."
Questions ran from simply "how do I sign up?" to how can a household fearing firearm dangers deal with the need to defend themselves?
Lt. Irvin Robinson of the police department said he would personally help Marion Williams, herself a victim of a violent crime, sign up to get plugged in to her local community watch group.
Cathy Currin said she has been so afraid of Henderson at night she has driven to Oxford to shop.
"My fear now is that you have all of these people getting a gun, and they don't know how to use it," Currin said. "We have guns, and I don't know if I could use one. Where does it end? What happens now?"
White said that he encourages safe gun ownership.
"I would not dare suggest to you that you should not have one," White said. "I would encourage you to be mindful, be watchful and protect yourself. Do what you can to protect yourself and we will do what we can to protect you and your property. It's a partnership."
Geraldine Champion asked about starting a gun buyback program, as some cities have done.
"I was hoping that between the two departments we could do one," Champion said. "I would like to see a gun buyback done."
Answers from Twisdale and White included details on how to do a gun buyback by the rules, including the presence of a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent, a licensed gun dealer and whether a studied look at the county would indicate a buyback would have a positive impact.
"We looked into doing this three years ago," White said, adding that the capability of holding a successful gun buyback is greater now.
On a question about civil evictions, community watch members were told that in drug cases it is possible to inform rental property owners and get evictions to work.
Twisdale said that the police department has been working with owners to get more drug users booted out.
"We have been getting quite good cooperation with this rental property owners group," Twisdale said.
Rep. Nathan Baskerville of the N.C. House said property can be taken under a nuisance and abatement law, which is a hammer over rental property owners if they don't cooperate with evictions.
Baskerville said in eviction cases, and also any crime situation, it is not always enough to call in anonymous information. Civil case attorneys and criminal case prosecutors need evidence.
"Be specific as you can," Baskerville said. "The DA's office cannot prosecute off of an anonymous tip. Can they prove who did it? Sometimes you have to stand up, put your name behind it and testify in court."
Comments going away from the meeting were generally positive, but some were concerned that not enough specific information on crimes and where they are happening, how many, for instance, is available for them.
"I think people want more details about what is happening," Mary Harris said. "Where is it happening? Did they tell us where these (carjackings) happened? People are frustrated because they want more information."
The second association meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m., May 23, also at the hospital auditorium.
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