New model puts town in four zones
Each section of Stallings will have its own dedicated officers, under the new community-policing plan outlined by Chief Michael Dummett.
Speaking at the town council’s Monday, Jan. 24, meeting, Dummett detailed a plan which would split Stallings into four zones, staffed by a specific officer during each of the four shifts.
“There’s a very high perception the police are not (visible) in (the town),” Dummett said. “What you create (in zones) is a splinter cell so if one drops, the mission keeps moving. It’s amazing the things you can learn from even terrorists.”
Dummett laid out the districts as:
• District One: Willowbrook, Hunley Creek, Fairfield Plantation, Creekside, County Woods, Golden Acres, Buckingham, Emerald Lake and Stevens Mill.
• District Two: Shannamara, Millstone, Fairhaven, Independence Village, Woodbridge, Madison Ridge, Eaglecrest and Blackberry Ridge.
• District Three: Brookfield, Stallings Park, Kingsberry, Eastwood Forest, Parkside, Kerry Greens and Morningside.
• District Four: Chestnut, Fair Forest, Callonwood, Chestnut Oaks, Spring Hills, Stonewood, Arlington Downs and Lakewood Knolls.
“If you are the zone-one officers, you are to be in that zone,” Dummett said. Officers will get out of their cars, walk around and get to know the people in their area. The new model is more efficient than having officers would drive around town, burning up gas.
Each Stallings police shift consists of four officers, one for each zone. In each zone, the four officers divide the homeowners associations, and each day, someone is responsible for checking up on that neighborhood at some point.
“I like it. It’s very effective,” Stallings Mayor Lynda Paxton said. The town’s Public Safety Committee, which met before Monday’s town council meeting, also endorsed the plan.
Previously, the town employed one community officer, Sgt. Michael Kane, who was responsible for working with all the neighborhoods.
“There’s accountability” with this plan, Dummett said. “If the HOA (president) from Madison Ridge comes in and says (they) haven’t seen a cop, then I (call him in) and ask why is your HOA telling me they don’t know who you are?”
The zones could change, Dummett said. “We may tweak it. Nothing’s set in stone,” he said. “The reason we’re always behind the drug dealers is because when they see something doesn’t work, they change. We have to stay up with the times.”
If people started shifting around, dramatically changing the number of residents in different neighborhoods, the zones would change to reflect that, Dummett said. The new zones take effect Friday, Jan. 28.
Chief asks for additional restructuring
In addition to presenting the new policing model, the chief asked council members to approve some further restructuring plans. Last year, Stallings voted to install a hiring freeze, as the council worked debated the police department’s future. The department had 22 sworn and six reserve officers and two civilian positions.
Since that time, Assistant Chief David Hearne and Community Officer Kane have left, and Dummett asked the council for permission to fill those slots but not in the same structure. Instead, Dummett told the council he wanted to add a drug enforcement officer and a crime scene investigator, which would be a civilian position.
“Our clearance rate in (arrests by investigation) is the worst I’ve ever seen in any police department I’ve ever (been in),” Dummett said. “When I went to go kill some detectives for it being so low, they had a good reason. They said ‘I don’t have time to work cases. I’m out doing crime scenes. I’m out doing evidence procedures.’ This is why I hate CSI,” Dummett said. “On TV, the CSI guys do all the sexy stuff.”
In real life, he added, every piece of evidence has to be tagged and cataloged, then another request has to be filed with the county to move the evidence to storage once the case is over.
The crime scene investigator could collect evidence and testify about it in court, leaving the detectives free to investigate other cases.
“Let the detectives do detective work,” Dummett said. “I’m not asking for additional people. I’m asking for the amount of staff we had before there were openings.”
As for the drug enforcement position, Dummett pointed to last July, when Union County deputies and U.S. Customs, staged a drug raid in Stallings that netted more than 5,000 pounds, vehicles and other assets. Because the town wasn’t involved, it missed an opportunity to collect money from the assets seized. Dummett estimated the town’s could have received about $223,000.
Council members endorsed the idea, but some asked the department could make the changes differently.
“It makes a lot of sense to me,” council member Paul Frost said. “(But) we really want to be able to make sure we’re using the personnel (we have), having what we need, but not having more than what we need.”
Frost asked Dummett if he might sacrifice two patrol officers from the neighborhoods to fill the slots.
Dummett said no, because all of them are needed.
“I can’t afford to be wrong,” Dummett said. “Nobody’s gonna forgive me if I’m wrong. We try our absolute best. All I’m asking, if I lose a body, can I replace that body? If someone quits, I just want to be able to replace those that leave.”
Council members voted unanimously to approve lifting the hiring freeze.