Belhaven police exodus continues

Published 2:13 pm Wednesday, March 26, 2008

By Staff
Mayor contends town remains safe
Staff Writer
BELHAVEN — Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal made it clear Monday night that neither he nor members of the Town Council or town staff will comment on the recent exodus at the town’s police department — a trend hat continued Tuesday with the resignation of yet another officer.
Prior to the public comment portion of Monday night’s meeting of the council, O’Neal forewarned those who would speak that they would get little in the way of answers to the question of why, since Thursday, the town’s police chief and at least two other officers left the department.
The town fired Police Chief George Hayden and Lt. Josh Hopkins on Thursday. Officer Jason Cleary resigned from the department Monday. O’Neal refused to comment on the reasons behind the firings, citing N.C. General Statutes governing personnel matters. O’Neal and interim Town Manager Gwinn Leverett again refused to comment during interviews Tuesday.
Since Monday’s meeting, Sgt. Jeremy Andrews also resigned. That brings the number of officers policing Belhaven to three. O’Neal acknowledged that concerns had arisen about how well the town would be protected until the department is restaffed to a full complement of officers, but he said the level of coverage is as good as it was before the exodus.
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office has pledged to pick up any slack for the town’s police department while it is understaffed. Chief Deputy Harry Meredith assured the 75 or so residents at the meeting that an “acceptable level of coverage” would be maintained while the two departments are jointly protecting the town. One deputy will be stationed in Belhaven at all times, he said.
O’Neal said the town is now tasked with finding a new police chief — preferably one that is “community oriented.” O’Neal said Tuesday the town is looking for policemen who will “walk a beat, knock on doors and check on the citizens.”
O’Neal wants the same qualities in a chief. To find the right fit for the job, the town has hired a consultant from Sanford to help find a new chief. The process may take up to four months, O’Neal said.