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Halifax council receives report on cops

As Halifax Town Council prepares to continue discussions on scaling back the town’s police force, Town Manager Carl Espy has provided council members with the Halifax Police Department Report on 2011 calls for service.

Restructuring the Halifax Police Department following the departure of former Police Chief David Martin has been a heated topic of discussion in the town in recent weeks.

Martin, who now serves as administrative captain with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Department, resigned from the town’s police department at the end of the year to assume the county position.

The town currently has three police officers on its roster, and Councilman Holt Evans has said the town “could get by” with three officers permanently.

However, Councilman Phil Hammond has questioned whether the town needs to promote someone to serve as police chief and be in charge of scheduling officers’ work hours and other administrative duties.

Also being considered is hiring someone to work part-time to handle administrative duties in order to free up the three officers “to work the streets.”

In light of the ongoing discussions about how to restructure the police department, Espy said Mayor Dick Moore and Councilman Tom Brown recently met with the police department and administrative staff to get comments and feedback that was provided to council members along with a list of Halifax Police Department duties and responsibilities.

Also to be shared with council is a report on all calls for service the police department responded to in 2011.

According to Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy, the Halifax Police Department received 3,729 calls between January to December 2011 with an average of 10 calls a day and 311 a month.

The department made a total of 114 arrests with 23 being felony arrests and 91 misdemeanor arrests.

A total of 32 traffic accidents and 515 traffic summonses were issued by the Halifax Police Department.

They also responded to 14 calls of breaking and entering, 10 calls of vandalism and seven calls of a prowler/window peeper comprising the remainder of responses.

Halifax police followed up on 131 investigation reports, answered 122 business alarms, 111 calls for assistance, provided information in 148 instances, 145 trips to the magistrate, checked buildings 245 times, performed 106 transports, made 674 traffic stops and executed 411 warrants.

In addition, town police checked 71 operator’s licenses and 98 vehicle registrations, assisted motorists 57 times, investigated 46 minor accidents and 19 involving deer, three involving pedestrians and investigated nine traffic accidents with injuries reported.

Also according to the annual report, Halifax authorities investigated four hit and runs, took two subjects into custody, checked on four abandoned vehicles, investigated one abduction, responded to 21 alarms, one fire alarm, one medical alert alarm, 30 residential alarms and 122 business alarms.

Reports of animals were investigated 58 times, and 17 dead carcasses were reported.

Officers responded to 15 assault calls, eight be-on-the-look out reports and one brandishing a gun threat.

Eight criminal histories were conducted, 16 civil matters were looked into, two juveniles were taken into custody, one curfew violation was investigated, and one cursing and abuse report was investigated.

Officers responded to 11 reports of trash in the roadway, six reports of people being drunk in public, 68 disturbances of disorderly conduct and nine reports of family violence.

In addition, they investigated three reports of suspicious drug activity, five reports of intoxicated driving, 26 emergency custody orders, one emergency medical service and served 43 emergency protective orders.

They also answered four requests for escorts to the bank, eight for extra patrol, one report of a fallen patient, seven reports of fights, four responses to fires or explosions and one to a residential fire.

Officers assisted in 15 instances of fraud, 15 funerals, investigated one report of gambling, 19 gas drive offs and one person with a gun.

Throughout last year they also answered 12 harassment calls, checked on a report of hazardous materials, did 12 house checks, transported 13 inmates and 12 juveniles, responded to five instances of loud music and seven instances of loud noise, 29 larcenies, five power lines down, nine instances of loitering, five lost items, six missing persons, one mental transport and reported to 14 mental patient reports.

Officers also checked on 10 open doors and windows, seven property damage reports, issued tickets for 17 parking violations and assisted public works on eight occasions.

Officers were engaged in a single foot pursuit last year, attempted to stop five vehicles, responded to five railroad incidents, 53 incidents of reckless driving and two repossessions of vehicles.

Authorities investigated one robbery, two runaway reports, four scams, two sex offenses and one shooting along with three shoplifting reports, seven reports of shots being fired, two road signs down, seven stray cats and dogs and four suicide or attempted suicide reports.

Also investigated were 46 reports of suspicious persons, 68 reports of suspicious vehicles, six traffic controls and seven traffic details.

A total of 22 tests were conducted, responded to 10 reports of threats by phone, eight traffic light malfunctions, 106 transports, 12 trees down, 13 reports of trespassing and three reports of unauthorized use of vehicles.

Other responses included seven to unknown natures of calls, one to an unresponsive patient, 10 reports of vandalism, one stolen vehicle, 24 warrant bookings, two weapons offenses and conducted 34 welfare checks during 2011.

In addition to providing an annual report of what police officers did during the previous year, Espy said he and staff are developing a summary of comments and feedback the police officers offered regarding council’s decision on the size of the department and how many full-time officers are needed, the overall organizational structure, scheduling and administrative and patrol operations for law enforcement services provided.

Espy said he also has been busy contacting other localities in the state that operate with three full-time officers and part-time patrol and administrative assistance.

At the January special called meeting, it appeared council’s general consensus was to limit the police department to three full-time officers to serve under the auspices of the personnel committee instead of filling the chief’s vacancy as recommended by Espy and staff.

Espy said he also is contacting three localities that contract with their sheriff’s office to provide policing services in lieu of operating their own police department since that arrangement also was mentioned by at least one councilman as a possible scenario for the town.

Halifax has a population of 1,309, and the town manager’s survey of nearby similar-sized towns indicated the following:

Brookneal, with a population of 1,112, has two full-time officers and receives assistance from Campbell County to cover the 3.6 square mile incorporated town limits;

Chatham, with a population of 1,269, has four full-time officers and one part-time officer to cover the 2.04 square mile incorporated town limits;

Clarksville, with a population of 1,139, has seven full-time officers and one part-time officer to cover the 3 square mile incorporated town limits;

Gretna, with a population of 1,267, has four full-time officers to cover the 1.2 square mile incorporated town limits; and

Hurt, with a population of 1,304, has two full-time officers and one part-time chief to cover the 2.73 square mile incorporated town limits.

Other towns across the state ranging in population from 2,231 to 1,009 were included as part of the department survey.

“I am also welcoming input from the Virginia Municipal League Law Enforcement specialist and the Department of Criminal Justice Services Field Inspector/Auditor regarding statutory requirements, state funding allocations and liability issues which council should consider prior to making any final decisions,” Espy said.

The town manager plans to provide council with this information in work session packets before their Feb. 8 work session.

Espy also recommended having Town Attorney Russell Slayton attend the Feb. 8 work session to advise council on matters pertaining to setting policy and allowing staff to affect policy through operations consistent with town charter, town code, personnel manual and state code.

He said having counsel present at the meeting “may help clarify responsibilities and minimize any potential liability to the town.”