East Spencer to sign temporary agreement that will set up coverage from sheriff’s office

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, January 11, 2023

EAST SPENCER — The town of East Spencer is currently down to one full-time police officer and four part-time officers, but Monday night the Board of Aldermen agreed to sign a temporary inter-local agreement with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office for additional coverage.

In the past year, for the most part the town only had five of the authorized eight positions filled, and in recent months, that number has gotten smaller.

Two officers were terminated for misconduct, according to Town Manager Michael Douglas. Two more left “for financial reasons — they found jobs making more money. In one case, they went from $29,000 a year to $41,000. And we do know one person left because they were unhappy with some of the changes made.”

During Monday’s meeting, one resident, Carolyn Logan, expressed concern about the size of the department, asking if anyone would be available to respond if she calls 911.

“If you call 911 with an emergency, someone is coming,” said Police Chief John Fewell, the town’s full time officer. “And that has always been the case. We are a small town with a small department, so we have always had mutual aid from Spencer, from the county, from Salisbury. It has always been the practice that if someone calls for help, it might not be an East Spencer officer who comes, but someone is coming.”

He said if someone calls to report an incident that has already happened — for instance a bike theft from a garage two days ago — the caller may be asked to wait until an officer is available to come and take a report. It is a matter of prioritizing, he said. But emergencies will always get immediate response.

Logan asked if the contract with the county will cause taxes to increase, and Douglas said “absolutely not.”

The town budgeted $364,000 for the fiscal year July 2022-July 2023 for eight full-time officers, according to Douglas. Because the town has not had to pay for that many officers, and likely will not have to for several more months, the money will come from those funds already allocated.

The agreement has been signed by East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett and by Rowan County Sheriff Travis Allen but it still has to go to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners for approval before it takes effect. It calls for deputies to be paid up to $50 per hour for any shifts they work in East Spencer. That essentially represents time and a half pay for the deputy, plus a small stipend for gas for the department.

Known as “off duty” assignments, the shifts would be voluntary. Allen said it may be “bit challenging to get people to sign up for the shifts, but the fact is, by law, we have to cover emergency calls anywhere in the county anyway, so we are already responding to emergency calls in East Spencer.”

He said his department already has a similar agreement with Spencer, and that he believes this is “a picture of what departments are dealing with across the country. But, people in East Spencer shouldn’t worry about emergencies. They are protected.”

East Spencer has  the lowest crime rate in the county, and one of the lowest in the state, and Fewell pointed out that the call numbers are low.

“But that doesn’t mean we aren’t responding when the calls do come,” he added. He said he understands that new leadership can often come with growing pains, but he said he “appreciates being in a community that cares, and working for a boss that believes in me. I have no desire to go elsewhere. I want to stay and work through this.”

Douglas said the town is advertising to fill positions, and already has several viable candidates. If a candidate is hired, it takes about six months for Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) and the intensive background checks to be completed before an officer would come on board for field training, so the town is looking six months down the road, minimum, before the department becomes more fully staffed. Douglas said the town is considering several options to help raise the starting salary to be more competitive as well, and hopes that might encourage anyone already BLET certified to consider applying.

Anyone interested in applying can email the town to request an application at jobs@police.eastspencer.gov.