Salisbury police chief cites progress on hiring; council still pressed for results on violence

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 22, 2017

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — Police Chief Jerry Stokes says six vacancies have been filled on his force, and he thinks that number will rise to eight in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Police Department has a pool of nine to 10 other candidates — “a number of people who should pan out” — that likely will help Stokes reach his goal of 90 percent staffing by Dec. 31, he said Tuesday night.

Stokes gave an update to the Salisbury City Council on the same day that a Salisbury High School student was shot on Ridge Avenue not far from the school. The boy’s injuries did not appear to be life-threatening.

Several speakers during the council’s public comment session mentioned the latest shooting.

“It’s everywhere,” resident Carolyn Logan said.

She accused council members of failing to address gang violence and turning deaf ears to its ramifications. She further predicted, “Something’s going to wake you up.”

Logan said she loves the city, “but it’s in a crisis now.”

Stokes reviewed for the council how his department had 18 vacancies at the beginning of the year. With recent hires or expected hires, that number will drop to 10. But the department really has 11 vacancies, Stokes said, after a veteran officer resigned last week because he’s moving to South Carolina.

“We lost a good officer,” Stokes said.

Stokes said one of the new officers who will be hired has 10 years of law enforcement experience in the Tidewater, Virginia, area. But five others do not have a lot of field experience, the chief acknowledged, and some are still finishing their Basic Law Enforcement Training.

“We’re getting a little experience here and there,” Stokes said.

Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell shared a personal experience she had Monday afternoon on Brenner Avenue in front of Hefner VA Medical Center. She said a man was out in the middle of the street, waving his arms and pleading for motorists to run over him.

The man ended up lying down in the street in front of Blackwell’s car.

Blackwell said she turned on her car’s flashers and called 911. The police officer who responded knelt down with the man, consoled him and walked him to the curb.

When Blackwell was doing a service project Tuesday morning at Isenberg School, she saw the police officer again and asked what became of the man on the street.

Before the incident on Brenner Avenue, the man had been at the medical center, telling Veterans Affairs personnel he was suicidal. He told the officer he was not given help. The officer walked back into the hospital with the man, explained the situation and was able to have him admitted.

Blackwell wanted Stokes to know the care one of his officers had given.

“They do that kind of work every day,” Stokes said.

Later in the public comment session, Logan noted it had been 10 years since middle-schooler Treasure Feamster’s death, when the girl was caught in a gang crossfire, and she asked, “How have we progressed?”

She said 7-year-old A’yanna Allen was another victim of gang violence in December. “Are we going to forget A’yanna like we did Treasure?” Logan asked.

In other comments, Emily Rivers thanked the police chief and City Manager Lane Bailey for their help on a problem she had brought up previously. Rivers said she also was excited about public events scheduled and partnerships being forged with residents.

“All these events are pulling us together,” she said.

Rivers said she still has concerns about the need for providing summer jobs for adults 25 and younger, including those who will be home from college.

“Let’s utilize this talent and their youth,” Rivers said.

Bailey confirmed for Blackwell that the city will have its summer intern program again, and Blackwell encouraged Rivers to seek more details on it.

Liliana Spears, a member of the Hispanic Coalition, thanked the Police Department, Parks and Recreation Department and county library for their help in a recent event at Matika Village.

The owner of Latin Mix on South Fulton Street near where Tuesday’s shooting occurred, Spears said it was the first violent incident she can think of in that area in 17 years, and she said it is not a reflection of the neighborhood as a whole.

Rodney Queen, who served on the Tree Board for 11 years, including eight as chairman, described to the council how he resigned from the board out of frustration. In the past five years, Queen said, 474 trees have been taken out, and tree removal costs taxpayers money.

Over his 11 years, the council never gave the Tree Board a nickel, Queen said. He was told the city was broke, Queen added, but he pointed out the significant funds discussed Tuesday, for example, on new sidewalks downtown.

“We get nowhere,” he said. “… We need tree protection.”

Queen briefly described efforts in Charlotte to protect and plant trees and how TreesCharlotte is dedicated to tree replacement, having planted 10,000 trees last year alone.

Queen said he will take it on himself as a private citizen to work toward improving the city’s tree canopy with a similar type of program.

“We have to do something,” Queen said.

In connection with community involvement, the city of Salisbury, Rowan County government and the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education have a series of four “Community Action Planning Sessions” in April.

Mayor Karen Alexander said the planning for these sessions has been going on since January.

Here are the dates, times and locations:

• April 3, 6-8 p.m., Wallace Educational Forum.

• April 6, 6-8 p.m., Livingstone College.

• April 8, 10 a.m.-noon, Civic Center.

• April 29, 10 a.m.-noon, J.F. Hurley YMCA.

“All citizens who are dedicated to working toward a better Salisbury are encouraged to attend one or more of the sessions,” the city said in a news release. Child care will be available at the April 8 and April 29 sessions.

In addition, Downtown Salisbury Inc. will host an Open House from 6 to 8 p.m. April 3 at Salisbury Business Center, 301 S. Main St.

This is the third and final Open House in a series discussing future downtown improvements. The results and public input from the two previous sessions will be presented at 6:15 p.m. and again at 7:15 p.m.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.