East Spencer gets new police cars, officers
By Karissa Minn
EAST SPENCER - After years of uncertainty and upheaval, a small-town police department is getting a bit of a tune-up.
The East Spencer Police Department now has three new police cars and better equipment through a grant and loan from the federal government.
Some new faces also have arrived at the department, doubling the size of the staff in less than two years. Soon there will be a dozen police officers, including full-time and part-time, working with the town of East Spencer.
"We've made a lot of improvements and brought in a lot of good guys - some experienced and some rookies," said Police Chief Darren Westmoreland. "We've come a long way... I just see us going forward from here."
He said that when he came to the department in November 2010, there were four full-time police officers, including the chief. Now there are five, and he's working to fill a sixth position that was recently added.
The department has gone from one or two part-time officers to four. In addition, two reserve officers volunteer 12 hours a month for free.
He's using the same funding allotted to the department for salaries, but in the past it wasn't used to hire as many people. Part-time officers may have worked more hours, and at least one full-time position was left vacant.
"We were really short on staff just to cover the hours we have to cover when I got here (in October 2011)," said Town Manager Macon Sammons. "We had a period of time without a permanent police chief."
Westmoreland is the town's sixth police chief since 2005. The previous chief, Floyd Baldo, was dismissed in July 2011 along with Assistant Chief Tim Wooten. At that point, Westmoreland served as interim chief until February, when he was hired officially to the top spot.
The chief said "it's helped a bunch" to have more staff. He also appreciates the new cars.
"We're loving them," Westmoreland said. "A lot of it was a safety thing. Everything we had had high mileage."
When the department bought the black 2012 Chevrolet Impalas in June, they came equipped with police lights, cages, computers, radars, laptops and direct access to the county 911 communications center.
East Spencer police have been relying on radios to communicate with dispatchers, Westmoreland said. Now, officers in the new cars can run vehicle tags and receive call information directly through the computer system.
One of the cars is unmarked, and the other two are emblazoned with blue stripes outlining the word "Police," along with the silver slogan "Protect and Serve." They join an existing fleet of five older-model Ford Crown Victorias, replacing three that are going out of service.
The three cars cost $82,000 in total, Sammons said, and the town paid a little more than $12,000 of that outright. The rest of the cost was covered by a $27,000 Community Facilities Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a five-year loan of $43,000.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.Twitter: twitter.com/postcopolitics