by: Justin Herbe, Fayetteville City Council District 5 Candidate
Recent publicity around negative police encounters has led to dramatically increased scrutiny of police departments in the U.S. That scrutiny has forced change in the way Policing is conducted. We need change, but not always. Since this increased scrutiny has occurred the Police Force garners little to no respect from the community while trying to improve with an Officer population that is young, inexperienced, and inundated with paperwork. Fayetteville needs non-biased law enforcement, and in order to accomplish this, the city needs Officers on the streets…Veteran Officers, not just Rookies straight out of the Police Academy.
I volunteered for a Police Ride Along so I could experience firsthand the situations that Officers and the Community deal with on a daily basis. I had some pre-conceived notions of racial profiling, targeting homeless, and some big gruff bullying and intimidating Officers in my mind before I signed up, and I wanted to see if those ideas held weight or if our Police Force was non-biased and racially blind like they say they are.
The night started out with foreboding thunder clouds moving towards the sector that we would be patrolling. The Central District encompasses a large area in the middle of the city, known for drugs, guns, and prostitution. It runs from Bonnie Doone in the North abutting Ft. Liberty, west to Skibo rd., heading east and south into Murray Hill, Haymount, and farther south into Douglas Byrd and Lakedale.
The first stop was a triggered building alarm. By the time we arrived, the rain clouds were directly above us and it began to pour. We were drenched within seconds and began searching the perimeter of the building and determined it had probably been a weather-related issue that caused the alarm to get triggered. We searched high and low for any points of entry or broken windows and none were found. We jumped back into the squad car, turned off the A/C because being wet it quickly got cold. I was really hoping the entire night would not be like this.
Throughout the storm we continued the street patrol where we scanned license plates, checked registrations, and validated current driver’s licenses all from the comfort of the vehicle using the hood mounted cameras. While driving on Raeford Rd., we noticed a car driving with its lights out. The Officer turned his car around, began following the car into Haymount, scanned the license plates, noticed they were expired, and flashed the lights. He stopped the car, approached the driver, politely asked for her license, returned to his vehicle and ran the license through the computer systems. She already had a ticket for the registration and a court date so he decided not to give her another one, which would have compounded the bad situation, and he also decided just to give a warning for the headlights being off. The Officer told me he usually gives warnings for nearly all minor infractions. But this warning began what I will call a paper trail of documents throughout the night that will engulf the quiet moments in-between calls. The Officer will quite possibly miss opportunities where positive engagements could have been conducted. The traffic stop report was the easiest report of all to fill out but still took 10-15 minutes.
We drove around a little more and found some unsheltered individuals hanging around an abandoned Circle K. We pulled up, exited our vehicle, and began talking to the individuals. The three individuals who were standing there looked like they were living outside, and carrying everything that belonged to them. The Officer told them about the Day Resource Center that was now open at 128 King St., they were excited to hear this because they had not known about it. They even asked if there were any counseling services available at the Center. The conversation was amicable, I got to hear more about the homeless situation, and they learned about the resources at the Day Center. It lasted about 15 minutes, but the paperwork took nearly twice that. One field contact sheet for each individual that he spoke with took 10 minutes to write out and link the individuals’ names together in the system. We reviewed their rap sheets and saw a long history of arrests, some more serious than others. It was concerning because I sympathized with them and could tell they needed help, but I did not know what kind of help they really needed. Drug counseling, maybe mental health counseling, just somewhere to go to get out of the rain would have easily helped them. But the Police are not a taxi service, nor do I want them to be.
We began the patrol again by driving through the back side of Wal-mart maybe trying to make another positive engagement where we could let more homeless know about the Day Resource Center and what it offers. The situation changed quickly…as we came from behind Wal-Mart, City Dispatch alerted us that there was a 9-1-1 call coming from the Wal-Mart parking lot. She said that a man called asking for help, that he was being chased by five individuals wearing hooded sweatshirts and armed with guns. The Police Officer, knowing I had previous military experience, had told me early this night that if there was ever a reason I might need to assist and get involved to do so. I acted like it was no big deal and said I could help out, but this wasn’t what I had in mind!!!
As we were searching for the store that the individual was being chased from, the individual actually saw us first and ran up to our car. He looked petrified, literally fearing for his life… I was wishing I had chosen to conduct a ride with somebody else that had backup or maybe another way to interdict like a K-9 unit before it coming down to a shoot-out in the O-K Corral. The Officer stepped out and asked the man if he was ok. He replied he was not… he was scared, and needed help. Obviously he needed help! He wanted protection because people were after him. The Officer spoke with him, let him know he was safe now. Nobody was chasing him, and he would be protected. The individual put himself on his cellphone microphone, speaking with his daughters who were crying for their father.
A minute had passed and we had not found the men chasing him; another Officer arrived as back up and began towering over the individual. I was in shock and I thought to myself, “why are we not searching for the men who were chasing him?” These Officers are clearly misidentifying the issue at hand! Another minute goes by, the man is still on the phone with his kids while trying to talk to the Officers, he is scared, I am scared, he thinks his life is in danger, and I do too. He keeps pointing out the individuals who were chasing him, I look over there and see the men, yet the Officers refuse to chase down these people. The Police motto is Serve and Protect, why in this moment are we not doing that?
Trying to regain control of the situation, the Officer who I was riding along with, asks the man for his I.D. I do not know what he is trying to do, what on God’s green earth do you need someone’s I.D. for at this moment in time? He must really want to run his driver’s license and do more paperwork. Come on now, we have bad guys to catch! The guy refuses to comply, he says he has no I.D. and he is not from around here. Sounds legitimate to me, I believe the best course of action is to at least take him somewhere safe, drive him someplace away from the danger. The situation is getting tenser, I hear the girls on the phone screaming, the man is being questioned all the while, quite literally he was the one that called 9-1-1!
The man has a black bag sitting beside himself on the curb, the Officer asks what’s inside the black bag and demands to see some I.D. The man pauses, looks at the bag, and reaches in. Within that moment… I consider my surroundings, there are 2 Officers within 3 feet of this man and myself another 2 feet away. I am sure if he pulls a gun out, he is going down no question, but he will get one of us as well. Looks like this is going to be my first and last public ride along with the Cops.
He reached in… and out came his brown wallet along with a bag of cocaine. We all saw it together at the same instance, the wallet flopped on the ground dropping loose change, dollar bills, and the drugs. He was handcuffed within an instant and placed under arrest. The Officers grabbed his black bag, placed it on the trunk of the car and pulled out 16 grams of Marijuana, 2 grams of cocaine, 1 crack rock, and a broken homemade zip gun that had already been used. My instincts had failed me…the Officer’s instincts had saved them.
We drove the individual to the County Jail and arrived at 8:08 PM, where we spent the majority of the rest of the night. It took three grueling hours to process the arrest in total. The incident report, and arrest report, probable cause affidavit, magistrate’s order, two intake forms, and two sets of pictures, one for the Warrant’s server and other a mugshot for the jail all needed to be completed. We left the Sherriff’s at 10:16 but we were not finished yet, we still had to drive to the Police Department in order to weigh and submit the evidence. But of course, each piece of evidence needs to be tagged and marked. The forms to fill out are just as exhausting, evidence voucher and tags, drug test request, and a felony investigation report for the District Attorney. The pain ended at 11 PM, nearly three hours to the minute after the arrival at the Sherriff’s. Let’s not forget to mention the other Officer involved, who most likely had to fill out his own incident report and collect the individual’s property and take it to the Police Station for safekeeping until his release.
Our current Police Department is understaffed by 52 Officers. The Officer I rode along with had a graduating class of 12 from the Police Academy back in January of 2022. Only six remain. They have gone to other towns, where the workload is easier, pay is greater, and their life is not in danger every single day. Daily, when running my City Council campaign, I’ve been telling people we must increase the Police Officer’s pay at least 30 percent, otherwise our Force will quickly look like those in Goodhue, Minnesota, or Enfield, NC where the Police Chief resigns because of poor pay and the entire PD follows after leaving the city with no protection.
At the beginning of this shift during their shift change, I gave that same pitch to the entire squad. After I finished what I was saying, they smirked and laughed and said to me, “it’s already happening.” At the end of the night my Officer asked me how much money would it take for me to perform his job? I thought about it for a moment…how much would it take? I thought about it for a second longer and I replied back, “I would never do it.” God bless our Police and First Responders.