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Letter to the Editor
Ridge Spring Police Chief speaks out on ordinance
web posted August 21, 2006
I have had the great honor serving as Chief of Police in Ridge Spring since January 2006. It was never my aspiration to become a Chief, but circumstances beyond my control determined my fate. In retrospect I could have rejected the offer, and probably should have. Two council members voted against my appointment, Bob Nelson and Lewis Burt. This should have been my warning sign that there was trouble to follow my appointment.
Everyone in Ridge Spring is talking about the proposed new ordinance to abolish the existing police department introduced by Councilman Jimmy Saul at the August 8, 2006 Town Council meeting. The first reading of the proposed new ordinance passed with Jimmy Saul, Bob Nelson, and Lewis Burt voting in favor of the new ordinance and Mayor Denise Martin voting against the proposed new ordinance. A public hearing has been scheduled for August 28, 2006 at 7:00 PM.
This proposed ordinance has put me between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If I voice my opinion against the proposed ordinance, the first public assumption is that I am merely trying to save my job. I assure you this is not the case. When I accepted my appointment as Chief of Police in January, I did not receive an immediate increase in salary. In May my salary was increased by $1,400.00 a year. My salary was increased to what the last Chief of Police made when he left the department in May of 2005. After I received my salary increase, I realized that I could not meet my personal financial obligations and discussed this matter privately with the mayor. I explained to her that I had to seek employment elsewhere only for financial reasons.
Most people in Ridge Spring know the real reason behind the proposed new ordinance. Despite that, Jimmy Saul, Bob Nelson, and Lewis Burt are selling the idea on the platform it will save the Town of Ridge Spring money. When asked by a local business owner how much money it would save the town, Jimmy Saul’s response was “I am not privy to that information.”
Now correct me if I have the wrong interpretation of a councilmember’s job. Isn’t a councilmember provided with a monthly and yearly financial statement? If three council members saw abolishing the police department as an opportunity to save the town money, why did they not propose this new ordinance at the beginning of the fiscal year? Why didn’t the three council members discuss this with the police department, and give the employees an opportunity to seek employment elsewhere? This would have been the honorable thing to do. Why didn’t the council members discuss this issue with the mayor?
Why did one council member approach the Sheriff of Saluda County about providing police protection in the event that council decided to abolish the police department? Why did the county sheriff agree to enter into contractual negotiations with a council member instead of discussing the matter with the mayor? How did council members, who profess never to have been in a quorum, have a proposed new ordinance drafted by a town attorney that specifically states, “The mayor pro tem and a council member will enter into contractual negotiations with the county sheriff”? Other than stating that the proposed new ordinance would save the town money, there have been no other reasons given for abolishing the police department. Clearly, there are far too many questions and few answers.
Ridge Spring is a very small community and like most small southern towns, it has its quirks. When you have a small community you have the need for a very different approach to policing. Most people use the term “community oriented policing” with out any explanation. I, on the other hand, will share with you what I set out to accomplish as Chief of Police by implementing “community oriented policing”.
When implementing “community oriented policing” the first thing you must do is know your community. In order to better serve the community you must understand its needs. The first thing I noticed about Ridge Spring was the community’s apprehension towards police in general. Police were viewed more like machines rather than people doing a job.
The second perception was that the police didn’t really care about the citizens they just wanted to make an arrest. The next thing I realized was that there was a huge racial divide among the community, not anything that was spoken, but best described as a feeling that white officers would treat white people more favorably than black people. My first goal was to change the public’s perception. After this, I needed to build a rapport with the citizens. I wanted the citizens to know and feel that I needed them as members of a team.
I feel that these perceptions have started to change and that the community has started to take comfort in the fact they feel as if they know their police officers, not only as officers but as people. I have tried to help the community by participating in efforts that give back to the community, for example the School Tools drive. It pains me to know that all of this will come to an abrupt end and that the community will suffer. These ties that have been made with the local police department have not been made with the sheriff’s department. The trust and rapport that has been built between the police department and the community will end with the abolition of the police department. Should a mere price tag be attached to this and is this something the community can afford to do without?
So here it is in black and white, my take on the proposed new ordinance. There are many other “issues” that could be discussed about this proposed ordinance, but they are not as important as the citizens of the community. Perhaps this editorial will leave a “black mark” permanently by my name, labeling me as a trouble maker, but I know that I have taken a stand for what is ethical, moral, and just.
C. E. Settle
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