Polk County Sheriff marks nine months progress toward goals

Published 6:07 pm Monday, September 21, 2009

Hill is soft spoken and modest, so much of the feedback on his accomplishments is from the people impacted. From the beginning, he has emphasized policies, procedures, communications and human resource management.

Hill was sworn in last November by commissioners after being nominated by the Polk County Democratic Party to fill the term of former Sheriff Abril. The term will end in November, 2010.

Hill will be up for election when his term ends but has not yet announced whether he will run.

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A few months after Hill took over as sheriff, his office faced one of its most difficult challenges so far. Steven Taylor, a prisoner, escaped from the Polk County Courthouse during a court appearance. After more than eight days of searching, sheriff&squo;s officers captured Taylor at a residence in Polk County.

Since then, Hill&39;s office has worked on the objectives Hill outlined when he took office. Here are the sheriff&39;s comments on what his office has accomplished on each of those objectives.

Make sheriff more accessible

The sheriff&squo;s office has been moved upstairs, off the reception area. Hill says that his office is so public that he can hear people&squo;s conversations in the main lobby when his door is open. He says he hopes to continue this direction by becoming more visible within the community and is often seen at community events and meetings.

Remove tint from windows

This action has been completed on all vehicles except special purpose cars such as K-9. Regulations require tinted windows in these cases.

Restructure department/zone patroling

Hill has implemented an organizational structure that puts more emphasis on line work by the officers and less on management. The patrol section is set up with three zones to increase officers&39; first-hand knowledge of the areas being served.

Drop interstate interdiction

The sheriff&squo;s office has been involved in interstate operations&bsp; only when other agencies request support or participation in joint operations. An example is the recent successful Driving Under the Influence (DUI) interdiction effort with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation (NCSBI) and other local agencies.

Better communications, relations with other organizations

County officials say the sheriff&39;s office has improved its relationship with the county (see article, page 8).

Charlene Owens, Clerk of the Superior Court for Polk County, says her office has a good working relationship with the sheriff&squo;s office and that they try to accommodate all their needs with no issues.

Improved relations with other law enforcement

Mutual aid agreements have been reinstated with Rutherford and Henderson counties. The three chiefs of police for Columbus, Tryon and Saluda and sheriff Hill meet monthly to discuss matters of mutual interest. The chiefs give Hill good marks for communications and mutual support and described excellent working relationships.

According to Jeff Arrowood, chief of the Tryon Police Department, the monthly meeting &dquo;provides an opportunity to talk about anything&dquo; and that &dquo;it makes a difference.&dquo;

Butch Kennedy, chief of the Columbus Police Department, indicated that they &dquo;have always gotten complete cooperation, from the biggest task to the smallest.&dquo;

Sheriff Rick Davis of Henderson County indicated that sheriff Hill has &dquo;done a fantastic job reaching out to my office.&dquo;

Crime prevention

Hill is a representative to the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and has assigned a deputy to the Child Advocacy Center, which is being developed in conjunction with the Department of Social Services.

Steps to Hope Director Cheryl Womack and program director Ruth Richardson indicated that &dquo;both Steps to Hope and the sheriff&squo;s office are trying to focus more on prevention.&dquo;

Hill cited that the fines for animal control violations will be put back into spay and neuter programs; evidence of taking a preventive approach even to this function.

Domestic violence initiative

The previously unfilled position of domestic violence investigator was filled by the addition of Tonya Lindsey. The result has been a &dquo;wonderful collaboration&dquo; with Steps to Hope and the Department of Social Services, according to their staffs.

Hill has also collaborated with Steps to Hope and NCSBI on Internet predator training.

Attack drug dealing in Polk

Sheriff Hill admits that attacking drug dealing is a very difficult objective. Very little of the supply originates within the county, he says. Prescription drugs are now the most significant drug enforcement issue, according to Sergeant Michael Capps.

Hill indicated that it is very difficult to prosecute the dealers. But Hill says, &dquo;We know who they are, and if we could set aside the evidence laws, we could round them all up in a week.&dquo;

Firing range/mounted patrol/volunteer program

Starting up a firing range, mounted patrol and volunteer program are still on the sheriff&squo;s to-do list. The Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program is close to being kicked off. It awaits the go-ahead from the board of commissioners.

Hill says &dquo;I am looking forward to the opportunity to participate in the department that will come with this program.&dquo;

Hill says he is aware that there is resistance to outdoor firing ranges in general and that he will have to look at options.

Operational accomplishments

Hill enumerated other activities of his office which he says should improve the operation of the department. They include procedures, fiduciary cleanup, and staff management.

A new policies and procedure manual has been created and is almost ready for use. It fills in areas neglected by current procedures. Hill noted that it will include a needed policy covering the use of canines and that the policy on the use of tasers has been modified. Hill also mentioned that he has procedures ready for the VIPS program when it is implemented.

The sheriff&39;s office has been conducting an audit going back nine years. This has allowed the office to clear 300 cases and destroy evidence for them. The evidence room now has space for new cases.

Hill says he has also made sure any unpaid bills and other items from the previous administration have been resolved.

Hill says that recruiting and mentoring his staff is a large part of his job. His deputies speak&bsp; highly of him, both as a sheriff and as a boss.

Rich Davis, the Henderson County sheriff, indicated that &dquo;Hill has been proactive in training his people and had to scramble to ensure that certifications were not lapsing, a carryover from the previous administration.&dquo; The Henderson County sheriff&39;s office provided instructors to Polk County for this effort. Also, Davis explained that Polk County was playing catch up in the application for grants. But now that is on track, Hill says.

County commissioner Cindy Walker, who is active on mental health issues, noted that the training Hill arranged with CooperRiis will assist the department in working with citizens who have mental health problems.

The whole department is &dquo;more focused and more professional,&dquo; in the opinion of Steps to Hope&squo;s program director, Ruth Richardson.

The diversification of the staff is improving. With two new hires, there will be three African-Americans on the officer staff. They represent approximately 10 percent of the officers. This compares to an African-American population of 6 percent for the county as a whole. Hill says that he hopes to sponsor a Hispanic candidate in the near future.

As one officer put it, sometimes the public &dquo;will throw the past at us.&dquo; But the public is beginning to view the department more favorably, according to some deputies. A &dquo;thank you&dquo; cake and a donation to the animal control function are positive examples.