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First participants with Community Watch seek more patrols by deputies

ENOCHVILLE — Within the last five years, Enochville residents say, crime and violence has increased, making their community less safe and secure. But recent patrols by the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and stepped-up vigilance on the part of residents are starting to reverse that trend.

And Thursday, a newly formed Community Watch met at Enochville Fire & Rescue with the goal of increasing awareness and letting criminals know that residents are paying attention. Jeanie Barbee, moderator, said she and another local resident, Avis Rumple, began gathering the community via Facebook in 2013.

With reports of drug sales and use, robberies and gun violence on the rise, they and other residents began to organize and pass information to the Sheriff’s Office. About 60 people packed the fire department meeting room to hear an update from law enforcement and to voice their concerns.

Sheriff Kevin Auten, Deputy Wesley Smith and two detectives from the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office were present to update residents. Kannapolis Police Chief Woody Chavis and Capt. Kenneth Jackson, field operators officer with Kannapolis Police, were in the audience but did not address the group.

Sheriff Auten thanked the community for being involved, and urged them to continue being watchful. Smith said that stepped-up enforcement efforts were having an effect, and that he had noticed a trend of drug traffic moving away from Enochville recently because of its reputation as a “hot” area, with increased law enforcement presence.

Nonetheless, Auten said, residents need to continue reporting suspicious people and activities. “Drug problems don’t know any boundaries, they don’t know racial lines,” Auten said.

Smith praised residents who take time to call in when they see suspicious people or vehicles. Whenever possible, Smith said, both marked and unmarked cars have been used to patrol areas where known offenders live, or where suspicious activities have been reported. However, Smith said that resources are limited, and the residents themselves know best who does and does not belong in a community.

“Look out for your neighbors,” Smith said. Aside from drug sales, Smith said that residents should be on guard against things that might attract criminal activity. Among those potential threats, Smith said, are houses that look easy to break into, or where equipment or scrap metal is left outside that might attract thieves. “I like to look at a house by nightfall and think like a criminal, ‘How would I break into this house?’ ” Smith said. He encouraged residents to invest in motion lights, alarm systems or even a dog to help keep potential robbers away. Smith also encouraged residents to keep in close contact by phone, email and Facebook, and to let trusted neighbors know if they were going to be out of town. A number of residents shared tips about suspected criminal activity in their neighborhoods, and Smith and other law enforcement officers said they would look into those reports.

Several residents said they wanted to see the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Department doing more to address their concerns. No one representing that agency attended Thursday’s meeting, although Smith said attempts had been made to contact them.

Smith said he was hopeful that a Cabarrus County deputy would attend the next Enochville meeting. Asked whether Rowan County deputies could assist, Smith said that under most circumstances, Rowan County units cannot cross the county line into another jurisdiction.

He urged residents to call 911 if they see a suspicious person or vehicle, and cautioned against trying to confront someone.

Other residents spoke of their concern over deputies in marked patrol cars who do respond to such calls.

Several people in attendance said they did not want officers coming to their homes. One woman, who did not give her name, said she feared having an officer seen at her home would “mark” her family for possible retribution. Smith said residents should communicate those concerns to dispatchers or officers when they call in a report of a suspicious person.

Numerous other residents asked questions regarding how to report crimes, how sex offender registration requirements work and why deputies are more or less visible based on the time of day. Smith, Auten and others answered questions and gave out contact information for future reference.

One audience member asked Auten what resources he needed to better tackle these issues. Auten said that the economy needed to improve, above all else, so that the department could add more officers. Disregarding the additional staff at the jail annex, Auten said, “Today, I’ve got six less officers than we had five years ago.”

“It’s been a tough time to ask, with the economy,” Auten said. “That’s why we’ve tried to change a few things and do with what we have.” At the end of the meeting, many stayed behind to talk to Auten and other law enforcement personnel.

Mary Bradford, who said she’s heard shootouts in the area near where she lives and knows of several instances of criminal activity near her home, said she hopes the new Community Watch will “not be just a social event.”

“I hope people will take it more seriously,” Bradford said. “… My feeling about the whole thing is that we have a broken system.”

Lois McCorkle, of Enochville, used to be a part of a Community Watch group that met from 1979 to 1981. Thursday, she was in the audience with the notebook she used to take to those meetings, complete with notes from the time she served as treasurer.

This time, McCorkle said she hopes people continue to participate, “and get some of these drug dealers out of the community.” Barbee said she expects meetings to continue on a monthly basis. The next meeting is tentatively set for June 26, pending confirmation from Enochville Fire & Rescue, Barbee said.

“I’m just wanting to help make the Enochville community safer,” she said. “I don’t think most of the citizens know that we have the drug problems and the crime problems that we have.” Frank Hyatt, who said he’s lived in Enochville for most of his life, told the Post he’s thankful for law enforcement officers and the job they do.

During the meeting, Hyatt told Smith and other officers that residents “don’t thank you enough.”

“You’ve been much more visible out here,” Hyatt said, adding that he hoped local residents would continue to be engaged. “The more (criminals) know people are looking at them, the more they’ll go away,” Hyatt said.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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