Protecting, serving the Friendliest Town in the South

Published 8:00 am Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tryon police chief discusses department’s past, present, future

TRYON — To say that Tryon’s law enforcement has evolved over the past 132 years would be kind of an understatement.

Back when the town was incorporated in 1885, the police department consisted of marshals, who were tasked with protecting and serving the public — among other duties, said the current head of Tryon’s law enforcement, Jeff Arrowood.

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“The marshal was the guy who did everything,” Arrowood said. “They did the law enforcement, they did the sidewalks, they did the building…they did a little bit of everything.”

Today, the duties of the eight officers under Arrowood’s command are more streamlined — and efficient, thanks to modern technology — though their responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the town’s residents remains the same.

Tryon Police Chief Jeff Arrowood talks about the department’s past, present and future during a presentation Thursday at the Tryon Historical Museum. (Photo by Ted Yoakum/Tryon Daily Bulletin)

The town’s chief of police shared the history of Tryon’s law enforcement agency, how policing has changed over the years  and what challenges lie ahead for small town departments during a presentation at the Tryon Historical Museum Thursday afternoon. Arrowood showed off several historic photos and artifacts from the department’s history during his lecture as well, including an old radio and breathalyzer device once used by officers in the field.

The Tryon Police Department was officially established in 1919, replacing the marshals who were previously employed to keep the peace, Arrowood said.

With Tryon having the first Alcoholic Beverage Control store in western North Carolina in 1951, the town became a quite booming place, with visitors coming from Rutherfordton, Hendersonville, Asheville and other places. The influx in traffic caused the police department to swell in ranks as well, with many officers working third shift due to the town’s nightlife at the time, Arrowood said.

Some of the old photos and artifacts from the department’s history on display during Arrowood’s presentation. (Photo by Ted Yoakum/Tryon Daily Bulletin)

Arrowood himself joined the department in 1993, shortly after graduating from police academy at Isothermal Community College.

The Hendersonville native — who came to Polk County when he was 13 — said he wanted to be a police officer since he was 5 years old, though it was not until he was 19, while working with his father building houses, that he decided to join the force, he said. He still remembers one of the factors that caused him to make his decision — while traveling home, drenched in sweat, after a long day of work in the blazing heat in a vehicle that lacked air conditioning, Arrowood spotted a police vehicle parked along the side of the road.

“There’s this trooper sitting in his car, writing his little ticket away, doing some reports, with the air conditioning just blowing in his hair,” Arrowood said. “I thought to myself, ‘you know, there has to be a better way. How do I get into doing this?’”

Although he was recruited into the Tryon department to serve as a dispatcher, in the two weeks between finishing his building job and joining the department, one of the officers had left, prompting the leadership to give Arrowood the job instead. Over the years, he climbed his way through the ranks, eventually becoming chief of police in 2003.

In his years on the department, the largest changes Arrowood has witnessed has been how technology has transformed the way policing operates — from electronic record management systems to the body cameras Tryon officers are equipped with.

Thanks to a proactive approach to policing, the chief said the number of criminal incidents in Tryon has dropped dramatically over his 25 years with the department. There are some crimes that remain prevalent in the community, including scam calls that prey on senior citizens and drug abuse — an issue that has affected Arrowood personally, as his daughter was shot in an incident related to such activity.

“Drugs affect everyone, somehow, someway,” Arrowood said. “I have compassion for people who are affected by them. I have compassion for the people who are involved with them. Because that is someone’s son, brother, mother.”

One thing the chief is concerned about over the next few decades is the lack of interest young people have in becoming police officers — the most recent police academy at Isothermal had three graduates, while Blue Ridge Community College only has 11 people in its program at the moment, Arrowood said. With larger departments also in need of new officers to join their ranks, Arrowood is concerned that small towns like Tryon will have trouble recruiting fresh faces in the years to come.

“At what point does the town say, ‘well, I guess we’re going have to accept a lesser level of service?’” he said. “Either that, or we’re going to have to pay more, or have to recruit better. We have to have some kind of different incentive to get people in here.”