North Buncombe – Small town police departments are living with a new reality when it comes to policing these days. In some ways, COVID-19 and the mandate to ‘stay home’ has made the jobs of these small departments easier with some caveats.
“During the stay at home restrictions currently in place, our arrests have been down about 45% over the same six-week period (April 1 – May 15) as compared to 2019,” said Woodfin Police Chief Michael Dykes. According to Woodfin’s chief in 2019, the department had 27 arrests in the same period while only having 15 arrests during this year. “Strangely, we have seen an uptick of motor vehicle thefts (five in the last six weeks).” Compare that to a total of nine motor vehicle thefts in all of 2019. “We have nothing to contribute this number to,” he said.
His counterpart in Weaverville, Chief Ron Davis reported the same, “Crime has been down in almost all areas since the emergency orders went into place. We have however seen a spike in larceny/shoplifting but not at an alarming rate and it’s too early to tell if this trend will continue.”
Asked, how things like arrests and auto stops are being handled in regards to social distancing, masks, gloves, health precautions, Davis told the Tribune, “Like everyone, officers have been instructed to social distance to the extent possible. For example, when conducting traffic stops, etc., officers always approach in the safest manner possible and with required PPE, etc. But as you might imagine, many times this simply isn’t possible. For example, “if an officer sees a crime in progress, or there’s some unforeseen circumstance leaving the officer little or no time to react. Further roadways and other locations can be noisy and communications difficult even without using a mask. But again, officers use PPE whenever feasible. We’re also using email, phone and social media to contact citizens whenever possible.”
Dykes said of his department, “When officers do interact with the public, we encourage them to be safe. All officers have been provided cloth face coverings, paper surgical masks, and N95 respirators, along with hand sanitizer and other PPE equipment. Keeping our officers and the public safe is a top priority for the Woodfin Police Department.”
The Woodfin Police Department remains diligent on traffic safety Dykes said stating, “With the decrease in traffic density, it is easy to find speeds increasing on roadways without having other vehicles to help slow motorists down. We urge drivers to be wary of this. Less cars is not an excuse to speed and our officers will be enforcing those laws along with other safety violations. With matters such as vehicle inspections and registrations, we understand the delays and hardships for getting registrations renewed. Even before the Governor’s Executive Order, which extended vehicle registration dates by five months, our officers were exercising their discretion on this matter and were careful on enforcement on those laws.”
Asked how they believe their departments are handling the changes, Davis said, “Our Town is blessed by dedicated professional police officers and I’d say they’re adjusting to life during this pandemic as well as most of us are. Officers have been trained over their entire careers to engage citizens and suspects alike, but now they’ve had to curtail this interaction. I would say of course it’s been stressful for everyone, but we’ve encouraged an open dialogue to help deal with these daily stresses.”
Answering the same question, Dykes told the Tribune, “The officers of the Woodfin Police Department are resilient and resourceful. Although it has been an adjustment, I feel the offers have adapted well to the current changes. We all long for a sense of normalcy and eagerly await its return, but until then, the Woodfin Police Department will continue to provide the best service available despite any difficulties posed by COVID-19.”
Both departments reported that they’d had no cases of COVID-19 among their officers.