In just over a year since he was sworn in as sheriff, the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office has come a long way, Tyree Davis told commissioners Monday.
And, he said, “We have a long way to go when it comes to law enforcement in our community.”
‘We are not politicians’
In his first annual report to the board Davis told the county’s governing body he let his staff know immediately, “We are not politicians. We will never be politicians. We are law enforcement officers and law enforcement comes first. Law enforcement will always come first.”
And, he said, “We are not a non-profit agency, we are a law enforcement agency. When people call the sheriff’s office, when people call 911 … they are calling because somebody is breaking into their property, a crime is being committed against them and they want you to figure out who did it or stop them from doing it again.”
He said, “I spoke with our guys. I said, ‘If that’s what you want to be, if you want to be a law enforcement officer, feel free to stay. I’m coming in. I’m not asking anybody to stay. I’m not asking anybody to leave, but if you cannot realize that we are law enforcement officers first, you do need to leave.’ When I took over — everybody stayed. We moved some people and positions to see if they would work. Some things did. Some things didn’t work but the guys were ready to hit the ground running. We were rocking and rolling.”
Fair, firm and consistent
In the beginning days of his office, Davis said, “I made sure to tell them (staff) we were going to be fair, firm and consistent. Everybody is somebody’s child. I don’t care if you’re another wino, a drug user or you’re the mayor or the chairman of the board of commissioners, you’re going to be respected by our officers. We’re going to treat you fair, firm and consistently and respectfully the entire time we deal with you because we are professionals.
“There are folks out here in the community who don’t always hold professional titles but we do and no matter what they say or do to us, we will remain professional. If you can’t do that then we’ve got to hold you accountable. If we hold our citizens accountable, we’re going to make sure we hold our officers accountable as well.”
Davis said it’s hard to tell a law enforcement officer that they’re going to be policed. “But that’s what we do. We have to police our own to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Davis told the board the sheriff’s office met with local, state and federal agencies.
“Historically,” he said, “The sheriff’s office did not play well with others when it came to law enforcement. When I worked at the sheriff’s office I was part of that but I met with the other local, state and federal agencies and said, ‘Hey, if we don’t work together, the criminals will win. They don’t care about jurisdictional lines, they don’t care about boundaries. All they care about is committing that criminal act and trying to get away with it.’
“When crime happens and we’re not communicating with the law enforcement agencies, they’re falling through the cracks and the criminals are getting away. We can’t have that. We put out the message that if you come into our county to commit crime we will target you, we will identify you and go after you and take every legal recourse we can to get you out of this county whether that’s putting you in a state prison or federal prison. We will use every resource we have because you are not going to come in this county and mess up the quality of life for our citizens.”
The sheriff’s office is now doing jail checks twice a day where before “at no time were we checking to see if the correct people were in our jail. You would think that’s something you should be doing anyway. We were not doing it … so therefore if somebody escaped we wouldn’t know anything about it until they had a court case or we had cause specifically to come in there.”
Inmate housing rates
Davis met with Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone and Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith, whose jails Halifax County inmates are sent to due to lack of space in Halifax.
Each of the sheriff’s offices were charging Halifax $75 per day, per inmate while the going rate currently is $50 per day per inmate. “I reached out to those sheriffs and asked them to reduce their rates from $75 per day to $50 per day … They worked with us and moved their rates down to $50 a day per inmate just like these other jails that are housing our inmates. That’s saving us a tremendous amount of money when it comes to paying other jails to hold our inmates.”
Adult drug court
The sheriff’s office is partnering with Superior Court Judge Brenda Branch and other judicial officials to bring an adult drug court to Halifax County.
“We have good people that are addicted to drugs,” he said. “I don’t care if it's heroin, cocaine or prescription pills — You can have a good person who hurt their back and the next thing you know they’re addicted to pills and they’re doing stuff they wouldn’t normally do to get those pills.”
The answer isn’t just throwing them in jail, the sheriff said, but to get them help for their problem. “Some want help and some don’t so we’re going to have to identify the ones that truly want help and truly want to go through the program and get the help.”
Cold case investigator
The sheriff’s office hired former Investigator Rich Somogyi to come back and go through cold cases. “He’s very thorough. He’s anal with the stuff he’s going through line by line and I harassed him long enough until he came onboard and accepted the position to be a cold case investigator. He just started in January and a couple of weeks ago he solved a murder case from 20 years ago.”
Davis said, “It’s working. We have many unsolved murder cases. We have many missing people here and his job is to focus on those cases and he has been doing a great job. He’s going to continue to push forward.”
The old policy was people could show up whenever they wanted to get fingerprinted.
No more, the sheriff said. “Our guys in the front office were being worked to death because people were coming — 10, 15 a day Monday through Friday.”
Now fingerprinting day is on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it’s only for people from Halifax County. Appointments must be set up online and the fee must also be paid online.
Detention officer uniforms
Detention officers now wear the same uniforms as deputies.
“Historically, at every sheriff’s office, the detention officers are seen less than the deputies.”
But, he said, “Every detention officer can just about go out here and be a deputy but not every deputy can be a detention officer. It takes a special person to be a detention officer. I wanted to let them know they are respected — that they’re not going to look different from us — that they’re a part of our team and part of our family and we’re going to make sure you know it.”
Promotions and demotions
“We’ve had a lot of changes,” the sheriff told the board. “We’ve had a lot of promotions, we’ve had a lot of demotions … because we looked at people’s qualifications to determine where they actually fit. We took the buddy system out of it, we took the gold old boy system out of it, we took the race and gender system out of it — we took all of that out of it and said, ‘If you’re qualified for this job and it comes up, we’re going to put the best person for this job in this position that we can possibly put to serve the citizens of Halifax County.”
The decisions are no longer relegated to only the sheriff. They are made by command staff.
Constant meetings with police chiefs
“We talk with them constantly about how we can serve them and help them succeed,” Davis said. “We have to make sure we partner with them so they can succeed. If they can use our resources and we can fight these criminals together, that's just more of a plus we can take to them …”
More saturated patrols, checking stations, and foot patrols
“I hope y’all have seen our deputies out there more, stopping more cars, doing more foot patrols, making more arrests. It’s paying off. I don’t care what the statistics say, crime is being reduced here in Halifax County. If you don’t feel safe — you are not safe.”
The sheriff’s office is patrolling in all communities and has placed an emphasis on Enfield where there is currently only one officer. There are supposed to be 10.
There are also more checking stations which are designed to check for licenses, registrations and seatbelts. “The Governor’s Highway Safety Program assigns more points for things you want to do during certain campaigns. We’ve found a lot of people who are wanted from them, a lot of people driving without a license — just a lot of simple things that turn into big things.”
The sheriff’s office is doing more foot patrols at schools and stores.
No more long-term security checks; reduced funeral escorts
One of the things Davis said he has taken heat from is doing away with long-term security checks.
For a week the sheriff’s office will do these checks in the county. “If you’re going to be gone for two weeks (or more) you need to contact ADT — you don’t need to contact the sheriff’s office.”
The office had deputies who were literally driving from one house to the next and then to the next because people were calling to have their property checked every day.
Sometimes those people were at home. “That’s one of the things the deputies came to me and complained about when I first started and we instantly stopped it because we are not your personal security. Some people were mighty upset but that’s politics — we’re not playing politics. If you’re gone for a week we’ll come and check you — that’s not a problem.”
The sheriff’s office will now wait only 30 minutes to do a funeral escort. “We’re here to protect the living. We’re here to honor the dead. Protecting the living is what we do. If we’re sitting outside for a funeral for an hour-and-a-half to two or three hours, we’re not protecting the living.”
After 30 minutes the deputies check back in to resume patrols.
No more food pantry
The sheriff’s office has done away with the food pantry. “One church was highly upset with me because we did away with the food pantry.”
Davis suggested the church start a food pantry “because that’s what y’all do.”
That doesn’t mean that the office won’t participate in food drives, he said. “Let them put it in your basket and then take it back to your church. They don’t need to come to the sheriff's office for a food pantry. We had deputies driving all the way around this county to pick up three or four raviolis — driving 45 minutes to pick up ravioli. I’d rather just buy the ravioli and drop it in there and send the deputies to work.”
The sheriff’s office donated the food in its pantries to churches or other food banks for distribution in the community “because we wanted to focus on law enforcement activities.”
The sheriff’s office has updated equipment for its narcotics division and detectives. “They had equipment that was outdated.”
The equipment was updated through drug forfeiture funds. “Those guys are there rocking and rolling as they have more up-to-date equipment. Criminals are going to have the best equipment. We have to try our best — we’re not going to keep up with them because gangs and drugs are big industries — but we will try to stay as close as we possibly can to stay on their tails to keep them out of here.”
“We love our state courts,” the sheriff said, “But everybody knows when they’re arrested and they go to state court they’ll get a slap on the wrist and they’ll be back home before we finish our paperwork.”
Thus far, five people have been taken into federal custody and through the federal court system where there are mandatory minimums.
“We are targeting the ones that are causing us the most headaches in this county. We’re spending our funds to build great cases against them,” he said. “Now we have a partnership with the DEA, the FBI and they are adopting our cases. We pick these folks up and put them in federal custody. So far we have five. We have many more to come and I can’t wait until that paperwork is signed so we can pick them up.”
HEAT reactivated and more canine training
The Hazardous Entry and Arrest Team has been reactivated. “They used to train together. They stopped training together.”
They have been sent to training. “They work as a unit. They train as a unit. Now every month they have training. Whenever we do search warrants we call them out. They do a threat assessment on the target.”
The sheriff’s office has reimplemented training methods for canine officers. “We don’t want you just riding around with that dog looking good. We need you to work with that dog.”
Davis said he wants the canine officers to excel at searches — not just for missing people but for drugs and weapons. “We made it mandatory for our canine guys to get monthly training.”
The office has one canine donated to it from the Scotland Neck Police Department.
The sheriff’s changed its uniforms because it was taking over a year to get some of the shirts and pants. “When you have a new deputy you can’t wait a year to outfit him with a new uniform.”
The office found a company which could get the uniforms in a matter of weeks and ended up going with a dark green. “We’ve got different feedback from it — some people love it. Some people hate it but we can get it in a good time …”
Restructuring criminal and narcotics investigations; removing a barricade
The CID and narcotics divisions have been restructured to put more investigators on the streets.
In what is traditionally known as The Strip in Weldon, deputies could not get from there into the projects without going down Washington Avenue and then to Highway 301.
“We talked with the projects and asked them to remove the barrier so we can more effectively patrol those areas without having to leave and go down 301. They said that has had tremendous effects on reducing crime in the project area.”
The sheriff’s office seized more than $133,000 last year and 80 percent will be returned. “We do it through asset forfeiture through search warrants.”
The sheriff’s office has started charging inmates for damages done to the detention center, fighting and making shanks. “When I got there they were fighting, making shanks and tearing up our mattresses. The only thing we would do is take the shank and ask them if they needed to go to the doctor if you got beat up or if you tore up a mattress we’d give you another one.”
Now the sheriff’s office is charging them for damaging property. “If you damage our property we go into your account. We take money out of your account. We charge you for damage to property and you go to court for it.”
If shanks are found the inmate is charged and if inmates fight they are charged. “If we can prove that you were fighting and you don’t want to tell on the person you were fighting we’re going to charge you for fighting anyway or we'll go back into our camera system and charge them.”
It is an attempt to hold the inmates accountable for their actions, Davis said. “If it adds one day to their sentence it’s worth it to me.”
Task force with Roanoke Rapids
“We have now started a drug and gang task force with the Roanoke Rapids Police Department,” Davis said. “They were short-staffed, they didn’t have the manpower to do what they needed to do. We’re signing up for the DEA Task Force so we will have a direct link between us and the DEA to help fast-track some of our criminals out of here.”
While in theory, a staff person is being lost to the DEA, that person “will help us get folks out of here.”
The sheriff’s office cannot investigate wrecks although previously it was being dispatched to every wreck, every disabled motorist, every highway patrol call that occurred in the county.
“When I started I met with the first sergeant of the highway patrol and respectfully said, ‘Y’all have y’all’s job and we have ours. We would assist y’all with whatever you need us to assist you with but we cannot come to your calls.’ He agreed.”
If there is a disabled motorist with an elderly person or young child in the car the sheriff’s office will respond. If there is a crash with a pin-in the sheriff’s office will respond as it will with a vehicle blocking the roadway.
“If you run out of gas on I-95 you will sit there until AAA comes or you will sit there until the highway patrol comes. If you have a flat tire you will sit there because that’s what highway patrol does. That’s not what the sheriff’s office does.”
There have been instances where deputies who were about to get out and serve a warrant left to respond to someone who had run out of gas on I-95. “We cannot have that,” Davis said. “That’s what the highway patrol does.”
That said, the sheriff’s office went from responding to 493 wreck calls last year to 277 this year.
The total calls last year was 37,094. The total calls this year was 40,552.
Security checks last year were 7,395. This year the number is at 1,468.
Traffic stops last year were 3,023. This year the number is 5,338.
Foot patrols went from last year’s number of 1,262 to this year’s total of 2,786.
Last year the sheriff’s office checked on sex offenders 474 times while this year they were checked on 1,023 times.
Last year the sheriff’s office made 575 transports. There have been 721 this year.
Involuntary commitment transports went from 114 last year to 184.
There were 31 search warrants last year to 40 this year.
Checking stations increased from 33 last year to 64 this year.
Last year 145 illegal guns were seized. This year 259 were seized.