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Big changes come with new Halifax County sheriff

A new sheriff’s in town. For the past six months since his election in November, Sheriff Fred Clark has been settling into his new position while working hard to deter and prevent crime in Halifax County.

To accomplish this feat, he has had to make some changes.

One of the major changes Clark said he has made since coming in office involves moving deputies from 12-hour to eight-hour shifts. 

“It is easier to manage,” Clark said. “The citizens get better service because there is more manpower on patrol.”

 According to Clark, the change has increased the number of deputies on duty at any given time from two or three to four or five. Because of the switch, deputies decreased overtime from 2,071 hours to 480 hours for a savings to taxpayers, Clark said.

For the new sheriff, his main concern is that deputies come home safely at the end of their shift and that county citizens are kept safe.

Clark said his goal is to provide the highest level of law enforcement and public safety for the citizens of Halifax County.  

“I want to make the sheriff’s office more responsive to the needs of the citizens whom officers are sworn to serve and protect by ensuring a professional sheriff’s office at all times, both in appearance and conduct,” Clark said.

Improving deputies’ outward appearance is another goal Clark brought with him to the sheriff’s office in January. Deputies now wear the formal class A uniform.

“It just makes you look so much more professional,” Clark said.


New programs

In addition, the new sheriff plans to soon implement educational safety programs for the elderly in the community. 

“The elderly are the pillars of the community,” Clark said.

 He plans to hold meetings at area Ruritan Clubs and fire departments to educate the elderly on how to protect themselves from scams and other crimes.

 Clark also plans to have educational programs put in place for the youth such as redeveloping the Class Action Gang program originally implemented by former Sheriff Jeff Oakes.

 Clark admits the county has a gang problem but describes it as “low level,” and he added, “We are doing everything to keep it that way.”

As of right now, over 300 people have been identified as gang members in Halifax County, he said, noting gangs present in the county include the Bloods, Crips and another gang forming out of Danville.

 “Minor gang activity” also exists in the schools with the majority on the streets, he said.

The new sheriff plans to work closely with the attorney general’s office as well as the local commonwealth attorney’s office to provide youth with the tools necessary to prevent gang activity. He hopes to get this anti-gang program implemented in the fall.

 If an effort to reduce computer crimes and protect children from predators and child pornography on the Internet, the sheriff’s office has become an active member of Blue Ridge Thunder, Clark said.

He urges parents to monitor their children’s social networking sites.

To further ensure safety in county neighborhoods, the sheriff’s office is in the process of restarting the Neighborhood Watch Program originally implemented by former Sheriff Woody Bane years ago.

Clark said he has received many calls from the public showing interest in this program.

“We had an incident not too long ago on the southern end of the county. A resident called and said she saw a suspicious truck go down somebody else’s driveway, and we were able to go down there, and they were down there stealing stuff. So it does pay off. It’s a way for the citizens to get involved and help out law enforcement officers,” Clark said.

 Deputy A.W. Britton has been assigned as crime prevention officer for this program.


Increased patrols

 The sheriff’s office is currently in the process of dividing the county into four quadrants, and Clark plans to assign a deputy to each one of those areas to provide more patrol to the parts of the county that have been neglected in past years. 

This will give the deputies a chance to get to know the people in the community, he added.

“If you’re seen in the area, it does help prevent crime. It’s not going to stop all crime unfortunately. Nobody can stop all crime, but it can deter crime if officers are seen in the neighborhood,” Clark said.

Clark said the sheriff’s office is making an effort to get as many grants as they can to offset the taxpayers’ financial burdens.

“We plan to be conservative with tax dollars,” Clark said.

 Clark has added a new K9 unit to the workforce, and Deputy C. A. Bates will oversee the K9 unit once he has completed the necessary training. This brings the number of tracking K9 units to two joining the two drug K9 units.


New leadership

The new sheriff also made leadership and personnel changes when taking office. These changes include hiring former Halifax Town Police Chief David Martin to serve as administrative captain in charge of scheduling and office administration.

Major Larry W. Fears oversees the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office, and Captain Thomas Logan is in charge of the road deputies.  Steve Cassada and Doug Carr serve as lieutenants.

Clark said he is in the process of promoting sergeants and corporals and hopes to have his full administration in place within the next month.

The county board of supervisors has funded the sheriff’s budget to provide the coverage needed for the county, Clark said, adding supervisors granted everything his office requested for their budget this year except for two of five new cars sought.


Forfeiture funds

With an investigation under way into the former sheriff’s handling of drug asset forfeiture funds, changes have been made in the way money is handled during the course of drug investigations, Clark said.  

Anytime the sheriff’s department requests money from the drug asset forfeitures fund, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office is now notified of the request and the amount they are requesting and must sign off on it.  

Once the money is obtained, if all of it is not used for drug buys, it must be returned back to the treasurer within 48 hours, Clark said.


On the rise

Since assuming office six months ago, Clark said he hopes crime in the county has gone down because law enforcement officers are giving “their 100 percent to get it under control.”

But the sheriff is well aware property crimes are on the rise.

In recent months, many thefts of lawn mowers and weed eaters have been reported, and people are breaking into houses stealing jewelry or anything they can turn over for a dollar, Clark said.

Also his office has reported a rise in prescription drug abuse.

“People are abusing prescription drugs more in the past few years than they did years ago,” Clark said.

He attributes this occurrence to prescription drugs being easier to get access to as opposed to cocaine.

 Clark said the sheriff’s office is working with Virginia State Police and the South Boston Police Department to combat this problem, and progress is being made. 

New Task Force Coordinator Jay George was hired a few months ago, and officers are working closely with him, Clark said.


Traffic control

 In an attempt to step up highway traffic control, the sheriff’s office is working with Virginia State Police to set up more check points, however, the sheriff’s department is not running stationary radar, the sheriff said.

“There is so much other crime and stuff going on that a deputy can be involved in besides running stationary radar,” the sheriff said.

 When his office receives complaints about speeders in a certain area, Clark said he occasionally will send an officer out to run stationary radar.

But he prefers his deputies not run stationary radar during their eight-hour shifts. 

The Department of Motor Vehicles has a grant-funded program that pays off-duty officers for this service, he added. 


Other crimes

Domestic violence is another crime Clark said is prevalent in the area.

“Domestic violence is something we see weekly unfortunately,” Clark said.

 His office is working to educate the community about domestic violence crimes and encourages victims to come forward.

Another crime Clark said he is working to reduce involves scams. Scams are very prevalent in the area targeting senior citizens. These crimes are hard to prosecute because most originate overseas, Clark said. Clark warns citizens about mail, phone and Internet scams.

“If it sounds too good to be true, then it is,” Clark said.


Looking to the future

Even though it has only been six months, Clark said he has already decided he wants to run for another term as sheriff.

“Being a sheriff has always been in my heart since beginning my career in law enforcement back in 1987 as a jail deputy under Sheriff Woody Bane,” he said.  

He continued work as deputy under Sheriffs Eugene Short and Jeff Oakes. 

In 2002, he became magistrate and spent eight years in that position. In 1996 he decided to take a break from law enforcement to focus on his store, Liberty Mini Mart, until he decided to run for sheriff.

 Clark said it was not just his dream to become sheriff, but it was his father’s dream for him to hold the position as well.

“The only regret is that my father wasn’t there to see it,” Clark said of his father who died six years ago.

Looking back over his six months in office, the sheriff said he really enjoys what he does and has a lot of support from friends and family members, especially his wife, Beverly, and his three sons, Cullen, Samuel and Isaac.

“The past few months have been a learning experience, and there have been some challenges, but I wouldn’t trade the job for anything,” he concluded.