Spencer approves deal with Rowan County Sheriff’s Office to cover officer shortage

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, November 10, 2021

SPENCER — The Spencer Board of Aldermen on Tuesday night approved an agreement to help fill in the gaps as the town rebuilds staffing of its police department.

The department has recently seen a deep shortage of officers, and by the end of this week it will be fielding only nine of 14 positions funded in its current budget. Now, both the town and the county have approved an agreement to field sheriff deputies in Spencer. The town will pay the county $50 per hour for the service from deputies. That cost covers the total cost of an officer, including salary, benefits, vehicle, equipment and training. The agreement is intended to last up to six months.

Town Manager Peter Franzese said the town wants to offer its officers the option to work overtime, but does not want to overwork them. Sheriff deputies will fill the gaps in schedules created by the shortage, and Franzese said the agreement is based on the model used five years ago when Rowan County Sheriff’s Office helped Salisbury during its own officer shortage. Franzese said the town’s allocated funds for polices salaries can cover the agreement through budget transfer.

Alderwoman Sharon Hovis, the former East Spencer police chief, asked how the agreement was created and interrupted Franzese when he said he kept the board up to date to the best of his ability.

“I wouldn’t be saying what I’m saying right now,” Hovis said. “So how did you come up with this?”

Alderman Bob Bish questioned why the town was contracting only with the sheriff’s office and not other nearby mutual aid agencies, citing concerns about the ability to field enough officers. Franzese said the sheriff’s office is the largest law enforcement agency in the county and has jurisdiction throughout, noting the department was able to assist the much larger city of Salisbury as well.

Mayor Jonathan Williams said the difference between this agreement and regular mutual aid agreements is the difference between a deputy covering an entire shift and only calling for backup. Hovis said other agencies could assist as well.

Franzese said the agreement started with a conversation between himself and police chief Mike James, who spoke to the sheriff’s office, which directed the town to coordinate with the county. Franzese said the county outlined how they had created a similar agreement with Salisbury in the recent past.

Hovis said she wants the town to consider the burden being placed on sheriff deputies to assist the town, and Williams said the goal of the town should be to build up staff so it can end the arrangement as quickly as possible.

“I just want it to be a problem that can be fixed,” Hovis said. “However you recruit it, however you do it.”

Hovis suggested moving county deputies in as school resource officers as needed. Then, the town could use its school resource officers to cover shifts as a stop-gap measure as well.

Franzese said applications for officer positions have not been coming in. Williams said the town needs to be out “beating the bushes.”

“Social media and posting job applications is not a … that’s one tool for the recruiting process,” Williams said. “We’ve got to be out there in front of people.”