BOONE — The Boone Police Department and the town of Boone held their fourth annual police forum on Wednesday, Oct. 6, taking the opportunity for law enforcement officials to give updates on the department and answer questions.
While the virtual forum was open to public comment, town manager John Ward opened the meeting by announcing there had not been any comments or requests submitted. Later in the meeting, BPD Chief Andy Le Beau noted that the department’s interaction with the public is not limited to a yearly event.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of community participation. In years past I have invited a number of our community partners and I didn’t do that this year. I wanted to create a space in case other people showed up,” Le Beau said. “We are having, I guess you could call them mini-forums — but we’re going to them.”
While no members of the public were there to ask questions, the department had a presentation based around questions they commonly receive and about their work in the past year.
Le Beau opened the presentation with the April 28 standoff between law enforcement and an active shooter that left five dead, including two Watauga County Sheriff’s Office deputies. Le Beau noted the family members left behind and the impact the tragedy had on the community and local law enforcement.
One question that had been posed to the department was if they had caused the death of an individual in the past year, which Le Beau said they had not done. He noted that while the April 28 incident did involved BPD officers, no loss of life was connected to the department.
“Our goal is the opposite. Our goal and purpose to save lives,” Le Beau said. He added that the department has trained to form a rescue task force alongside fire fighters and paramedics. Officers also carry Narcan — a medication used to counter suspected opioid overdoses — but said that it is not commonly used due to nearby medic bases.
Another topic was the use of force by the department, a topic that was front-and-center a year earlier when the forum met in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Capt. Daniel Duckworth said that chokeholds are not authorized for BPD officers unless there is a deadly force situation. BPD officers are trained to attempt to deescalate a situation when and where possible.
Le Beau added that it is the duty of a BPD to intervene in any situation were such rules are broken, adding that an officer who does not report misconduct will also be punished.
Sgt. Candace Burlingame, who is in charge of the criminal investigations division, presented the department’s officer statistics in the forum. The department has 29 sworn, full time officers, of which seven are female. Burlingame noted that she is the only female sergeant in the department.
The number of officers, down eight from the time of last year’s forum, was noted several times throughout the meeting.
Capt. Bobby Creed said a common complaint the department hears about is noise-related, specifically loud, modified vehicles, but due to the limited number of officers it can be tricky to catch.
Currently, the department has two officers that are persons of color — Sgt. Petey Hausley, who is the first African American supervisor in the department’s history, and officer Bre Whitman.
Le Beau added that at last year’s forum, the department had been asked about increasing its diversity of personnel. He said that had been a “long time in the process,” noting that a lot of the focus has been on internships.
“We have expanded our internship focus and capacity,” Le Beau said. “We realized that we can reach out in the (Appalachian State University) community, and expand our internship program. Where years ago, it used to be just one intern for a semester, now there are times that we have had six per semester. “
He added that both Hausley and Whitman came to the department through internships. At the same time, Le Beau noted that a welcoming atmosphere is key for all new hires, and that the department has looked internally on anything that can be exclusive to those of different backgrounds.
“We have tailored our policy to adjust for people who are of different ethnic backgrounds, just small things such as grooming standards,” Le Beau said. “No doubt, policy for not just police departments — but probably in the corporate world as well — were generally written by white people for white people. We have been able to tailor ours to allow for differences and ethnic preferences for grooming and standards. We try to do little things like that, just to let people know that they were welcome and they don’t have to check their ethnicity at the door to be a member of the police department.”
He added that a big part of the last few years for the department has been community outreach, especially with the Latino and Black communities.
Boone Town Council members Nancy LaPlaca and Connie Ulmer thanked the department for the work they do, with Ulmer noting how important it was for the BPD to be creating dialogues with different groups alongside their law enforcement work.
“I want to say thank you to Andy and your whole team,” LaPlaca said. “The fact that no one has shown up really says good things. We don’t have a problem. It’s really wonderful that you guys have created all of these bridges and look out for the well being of human beings.”
Le Beau finished the presentation by noting how impressed he was with the younger officers in the department, adding that they are the ones out patrolling and “getting the job done.”