New committee to evaluate possibility of county police force

Published 5:11 pm Thursday, February 4, 2021

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Three Beaufort County Commissioners have formed a committee dedicated to evaluating the possibility of forming a county police force.

The committee consists of Hood Richardson, Stan Deatherage and Randy Walker. Richardson, a vocal critic of Sheriff Ernie Coleman, introduced the idea of a county police force committee during Monday’s Board of Commissioners meeting.

“With all the problems that we have had since I’ve been commissioner — and for a long time before I was a commissioner — with sheriffs in Beaufort County, there may be some benefits to the county having a county police force instead of a sheriff,” Richardson said.

“… This would work almost exactly like the city police forces,” Richardson added. “The good news about it is the county would hire the police chief. And you could have a police board for oversight.”

Richardson specifically referenced Mecklenburg and Gaston counties. Both have a county police force in addition to their sheriff’s offices. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department was formed in 1993, serving as the county’s primary law enforcement agency while the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office handled the local jails and courthouses. The CMPD is no longer under contract with Mecklenburg County, and the Sheriff’s Office is that county’s primary law enforcement agency.

The Gaston County Police Department provides law enforcement services to an area of roughly 270 square miles that includes unincorporated areas of Gaston County as well as two incorporated towns, according to the agency’s website. City police departments handle law enforcement duties in the other municipalities.

The Gaston County Sheriff’s Office’s duties include serving warrants and other legal documents, and managing the security and operations of the county’s jail and courthouse.

“I’ve talked to commissioners in Gaston County, and they say they are very pleased with their county police force,” Richardson said. He added that the commissioners “owe it to the taxpayers to look at this.”

Chairman Frankie Waters instructed the new committee to hold a meeting, decide who will chair the committee and write a charter.

“It will take special legislation in the legislature, because of all the statutory laws that have evolved over the years presume that the sheriff is going to be the peace officer for the county,” Richardson said. “You have to have special legislation to back out Beaufort County from the present law so you can go more to the municipal law. It’s not going to be an easy thing to do.”

The committee will report back to the commissioners with its findings.

“Remember, the commissioners have the final say,” Waters told Richardson. “You are a research arm.”