BOONE – Encouraging partnerships, especially among Boone and Watauga County’s Latino community, was a main focus of a presentation by the Boone Police Department at its second annual forum on March 19.

The forum, named Beyond the Blue Lights 2.0, gave Boone Police administrators a chance to answer a number of questions.

With a crowd of over 20, mostly Latino community members, many of whom were wearing earpieces with a Spanish language translator, Capt. Andy Le Beau answered a question regarding the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, more commonly known as ICE. Le Beau said that BPD has no reports of raiding or arresting potential undocumented people in Boone.

“I can tell you the Latino community in my 17 years (with BPD), I have not seen ICE yet,” Le Beau said. “I have not seen any change from previous (U.S. presidential) administration to current.”

Le Beau said that Latino community members can reach out to them if they have concerns about ICE.

“They know us, have our contact information,” Le Beau said.

Le Beau said they would follow the law if someone has an active arrest warrant.

Lt. Chris Hatton, commander of the investigations division for BPD, said the department has had many well-attended and engaging events with the Latino community.

“There’s a lot of situations where (Latino) people have called us that previously wouldn’t have,” Hatton said.

Hatton introduced Yolanda Adams, who works as a translator for Watauga County Schools and the Department of Social Services.

“Yolanda is a godsend, she is always so happy to help,” Hatton said.

Hatton also mentioned that Adams has started a Latino Women’s Self Defense class and has helped many of the outreach initiatives, such as Coffee with a Cop and Policing in America.

“It’s been a pleasure and an honor to be that link between Boone Police, Watauga County Sheriff’s Office and our Latino community,” Adams said. “In 18 years living here, seeing from then to now, I’m blown away.”

Adams spoke about how officers have learned from the Latino community, including how they feared police due to their experiences in Latin America and minor cultural differences that help officers understand situations better.

“There was so much we didn’t know about the Latino community,” Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford said. “But as we began to be educated, we learned that … their whole life they’ve dealt with police who are corrupt or unethical.”

Sgt. Matt Stevens said at the first community meal set up with the Latino community, only eight people showed up, due to fears of the police. And now with events such as FaithAction ID in 2018, Hatton said 400 people showed up after hoping for 250.

“They feel protected by law enforcement, instead of persecuted, and that’s huge,” Adams said.

Le Beau later added that the department meets regularly with activist groups, such as the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Immigrant Justice, the Watauga County Sexual Assault Response Team/Domestic Abuse Response Team, the Hunger and Health Coalition, Hospitality House and other civic groups.

Crawford reported that in 2018, there were no substantiated complaints on officers, due in part to body cameras. Crawford added that the department was low on complaints prior to body cameras and complimented the “ethics” of the BPD for that fact.

All patrol officers have body cameras, Crawford said. Later, Crawford said that when body cameras were introduced, many officers were against using them, but now every officer likes having them.

“We have officers who thought we were buying cameras to look at them ... this is for their benefit,” Crawford said.

Body cameras, by state law, have to be activated at the onset of any enforcement or investigative contact, Stevens said.

Crawford said that in 2018, BPD patrol divisions answered or initiated 20,977 calls, a 25 percent increase in the last 10 years. Crawford noted that over the same time period, BPD has only had a 5.7 percent increase in personnel.

Boone Police Department has 37 sworn officers. In the department, 21 are uniform patrol officers, five are in the command staff, four are criminal investigators, three are narcotics investigators with one K9, one student resource officer in Watauga High School, one downtown officer, one forensic digital evidence custodian and one administrative sergeant.

Out of the non-sworn staff, BPD has one emergency 911 supervisor, eight 911 telecommunicators, two administrative assistants and three part-time telecommunicators. In addition, the department has four K9s, Colt, Simba, Kyra and Meeka.

Le Beau said that Boone Police currently has five female officers and two African-American officers and that diversity hiring efforts continue.

“We simply try to hire good people,” Le Beau said.

Le Beau said that women and African Americans are currently in and are applying for the BPD internship opportunities through Appalachian State University.

Le Beau said that the department designates one person a day to go out and engage with the public. The community contract program has been ongoing for six years, with officers visiting a minimum of five citizens or businesses a day.

Officers are also stopping by places of worship during services and Le Beau noted that many officers are members of their churches’ security teams.

Le Beau also spoke on being involved in the “lunch buddies” program at Hardin Park School, and raising $25,000 for Special Olympics North Carolina, mostly through the department’s annual Blue Ridge Parkway bike ride. Le Beau showed some pictures from Officer Jake Harkey, who is currently in Abu Dhabi with the International Special Olympics.

Crawford and Lt. Bobby Creed spoke on the question of excessive force. Creed said that as law enforcement officers, they use deadly force to defend themselves or a third party from imminent deadly force, to prevent escape by use of a deadly weapon, or effect an arrest or prevent an escape from someone who presents an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others unless apprehended without delay.

Creed said BPD undergoes annual training with firearms and all officers have to pass a state course with all weapons they hold, as well as combat courses that include moving obstacles.

“When all else has failed and we have to use deadly force, we want highly-trained officers,” Creed said. “How do we want to be viewed when the media comes in? We want highly-trained officers who know what they’re doing.”

De-escalation courses are part of training as well, but Creed said that situations can change in a heartbeat.

Opioids was another issue addressed by Hatton. In 2018, a total of 46 opioid overdose calls were made, plus many more that didn’t originate as overdoses. No deaths from overdose deaths have been reported in 2019, Hatton said.

All patrol officers are equipped with Narcan, Hatton said, as are all officers in Watauga County. Hatton credited the lack of overdose deaths Boone Police has had to respond to in the last two years to Narcan.

Le Beau spoke on Boone’s renewable energy goals. Aside from “common sense” solutions like motion-sensor lights, Le Beau said the department needs outside help on how to proceed.

Two electric bikes should be in “any day now,” Le Beau said, which will give bike patrols a bigger range of area to reach.

An added benefit of bike patrols, Le Beau said, is being more accessible and approachable to the public.

District Attorney Seth Banks and Crawford said the N.C. attorney general and UNC School of Government are still going over a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding civil forfeitures and how that would affect local police departments. Crawford said that roughly 95 percent of all seizures fall under N.C. General Statutes, which says that the property or the sale of property would benefit the local school board.

One issue Crawford and others brought up was the retention of officers. Le Beau said it has hurt keeping a steady bike patrol, saying it has evolved to himself and Creed being on their bikes during their lunch breaks.

Going forward, Crawford requested a pay plan for his department, which would let officers know how much they can make each year through potential promotions and taking training classes. Crawford said that almost all agencies BPD competes with have pay plans.

“We’re struggling to attract and retain quality people,” Crawford said. “We have great employees and would like to avoid losing our investment in them.”

Crawford said BPD is getting one or two applicants for a position when they previously would get 10-20.

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