NAVASSA, N.C. (WECT) – In response to a WECT report that Navassa Mayor Euless Willis had been appointed as the acting administrative chief of police of the town following the departure of its previous chief and other officers, top law enforcement officials in Brunswick County have revoiced their concerns over the lack of a traditional police department.
“We made the mayor acting administrative chief to handle the paperwork with training & standards. This was done in case the town decides to rebuild the police department,” the town administrator wrote in an email. “However, no official decision has been made regarding the police department.”
In an effort to get more clarity about the position and its responsibilities, WECT contacted Norwood Blanchard who is the attorney for the town.
According to Blanchard, since the town has nobody serving in the role of chief of the police department, the town is unable to enter into mutual aid agreements with other police departments to help provide services for the town. He said it is not unusual to appoint a civilian to the administrative role of acting chief while they search for a full-time replacement.
He did, however, admit it was uncommon for the person appointed to be the mayor, and in a municipality with a city manager, it would likely be that person who takes that role.
“The statute dealing with mutual aid agreements, again, requires somebody, the chief of the agency to sign it, right. So in our situation, if you don’t have somebody designated to do that, we couldn’t sign one to, for example, to ask Leland or the sheriff’s department or someone else to come over and patrol. You know on a temporary basis,” Blanchard said.
The need for an administrative police chief actually came from the state Law Enforcement Training & Standards department, and it does appear that civilians have been appointed to the top law enforcement role in cities in the past. As far as what the town plans to do with the department that exists without any sworn law enforcement officers, Blanchard said that has yet to be decided, but, they have some options.
“I know that they may go with a hybrid arrangement, you know, to hire one person to be the you know, the police chief for the town and then contract for additional services from the sheriff’s department or Leland,” he said.
Despite the move to appoint Willis, both District Attorney Jon David and Sheriff John Ingram voiced their concerns about the lack of law enforcement in Navassa.
“The people of Navassa deserve to have qualified, law enforcement professionals serving them in the same manner as every other Brunswick County resident,” Ingram said in a statement to WECT. “The current situation and the absence of law enforcement to provide safety and security to these residents is extremely concerning. We are not going to allow these good people feel they are not being protected. The residents in the Navassa community can be assured their Sheriff’s Office is here to serve and protect them,” Ingram said.
David shared similar sentiments.
“I am deeply troubled by the lack of a law enforcement presence in Navassa. One of the core functions of government is the protection of the public. The town’s leadership needs to prioritize addressing this urgent need. The current state of affairs is totally unacceptable because crime does not take a holiday,” he said.
“I have strongly recommended that the town enter into a dedicated presence agreement with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office,” David continued. “I firmly believe this arrangement will serve the citizens well in the short term and may possibly be a viable long-range solution. A condition precedent for having a Police Department is that it be adequately funded and staffed. By any objective measure, the Navassa Police Department falls well short of meeting even minimum standards.”
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