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Touchy times in crime fight

The Salisbury Police Department needs to know that City Council has its back. Shifting authority to another agency would be a no-confidence vote.

Council Member Ken Hardin and Rowan County Commissioner Craig Pierce met recently to discuss putting “operational responsibility” of the Police Department temporarily under the control of Sheriff Kevin Auten. For Police Chief Jerry Stokes to learn through media reports that a member of the council proposes to usurp his control undercuts Stokes’ authority and comes as a blow to the men and women who work under him.

Hardin has never been one to tiptoe around others’ feelings; he takes pride in that fact. Ditto for Pierce. But there’s a difference between straight talk and blundering into a sensitive area where nerves are already frayed. The line between maverick and rogue is wide; crossing it requires a deliberate effort to exclude or hurt others. Consider it crossed.

Every member of council has ideas about how to address crime, and there’s no prohibition against talking to other people about possibilities. But when it comes time to formulate a plan that involves government agencies, council members need each other and their top staff if there’s any hope for consensus. Governing is a group activity. There is no council of one.

And what about the proposal Hardin and Pierce came up with? The definition of “operational responsibility” is unclear, but County Commissioner Mike Caskey, who is a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer, heard enough to know he didn’t support the idea. “I just see too many problems in it,” Caskey said. “I don’t know how, legally, you could do that. … You would have to disband the Police Department.”

The city and county have partnered to fight crime for a long time, and the relationship was stepped up after the drive-by killing of 7-year-old A’yanna Allen in December. Off-duty deputies now can earn overtime working for the Police Department. By all accounts, that arrangement is working well.

Employing deputies is one of several steps City Council has taken to address crime and the shortage of officers that many cities are facing. Last year, the council raised police pay and hired a new chief. Money is going into training and recruitment.

There’s more to be done, no doubt. The city should explore all options. But, unless Ken Hardin has a persuasive story he has yet to share, this operational shift is an option that can be eliminated. The city needs to get a handle on crime, not delegate the job to the county.

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