Trinity weighs public safety needs

Apr. 06, 2013 @ 05:06 PM

With no police department and its corporate limits spread over a vast, 17-square-mile territory, providing public safety services to its residents can be a challenge for Trinity.
The City Council grappled with this issue during its retreat Saturday.
Since 2006, Trinity has had a contract with the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office for one deputy to work in the city for 40 hours per week at an annual cost of $50,000.
City leaders said having a deputy dedicated to serving the city full-time has been worth the investment, providing a visible law enforcement presence that helps deter crime and instill a sense of security among residents.
City Manager Debbie Hinson said the general public, as well as criminals, are aware that response times to calls are faster when the officer — Deputy Eric Wilson — is on duty in the city. Independent of Wilson, the sheriff’s office has just two deputies who patrol a 200-square-mile area, of which Trinity is a part. So without Wilson covering the city, it would likely take longer for an officer to answer a call.
“They might be at the other end of Randolph County,” Hinson said.
With two interchanges on Interstate 85, Trinity is a possible “escape route” for criminals fleeing Archdale, High Point or Thomasville, or a potential location for criminals to exchange stolen property and conduct other activity because of its isolated, rural setting, the manager said.
She argued that the value of having a full-time deputy in Trinity is illustrated by 2012 sheriff’s office crime statistics, which showed that Wilson made 41 “on-view” arrests for the year, involving alleged offenses the officer witnessed firsthand.
Such arrests typically are pursuant to traffic stops or occur when an officer catches someone in the act of committing a crime, such as a theft or break-in. They differ from cases where an officer serves an arrest warrant on a suspect pursuant to an investigation of a crime that has already occurred.
Hinson said the other eight deputies on regular patrol for the sheriff’s office made a total of 88 on-view arrests in all of Randolph County last year.
“Forty-one arrests out of 88 — I think that number speaks for itself,” said Councilman Barry Lambeth. “That’s impressive.”
Councilman Chester Ayers said he had not seen definitive evidence that response times were better with a dedicated deputy than without one.
“I’m having a difficult time trying to see how this is added value to Trinity at $50,000 a year,” he said.
Ayers added that he understands that residents want safety, but said he’s also trying to watch how the city spends its money in light of major expenses like future debt service payments on its sewer system.
“I’ve always thought that was one of the best things we’ve ever done for the city for a little bit of money,” said Councilwoman Karen Bridges.
Ayers said, “50,000 — that’s not a little bit when we’re looking at a sewer bill that’s going to choke Trinity if we don’t do something about it.”
Hinson said public safety is the most requested service from residents. There are three fire stations within Trinity that provide ample medical reponses to calls, but residents have raised concerns about law enforcement response times.
“It’s totally up to council, but we have residents calling us now wanting to form a police department, because they don’t like the response times they’re getting with just one deputy,” said Hinson.
The manager said it’s more beneficial for the city to continue its contract with the county than to start its own police department, because of the costs involved. Costs associated with the creation of a department would include salaries and benefits for at least nine officers, as well as equipment, vehicles and facilities, plus ongoing operating and capital expenses.