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County police committee meets Thursday

The Beaufort County Police Force Committee is set to meet again on Thursday night at 6 p.m. at 136 W. Second St. in Washington. The meeting will be live streamed HERE.

It’ll be the committee’s first meeting since Rep. Keith Kidwell earlier this month told the entire Beaufort County Board of Commissioners that he wouldn’t support any legislation seeking to establish a county police force, and claimed that the committee’s business is part of a larger effort to “defund” the Sheriff’s Office.

The police committee is tasked with researching the feasibility of establishing a county police force similar to the one Gaston County currently has. In Gaston County, the police force — which is headed by a police chief, who is appointed by the county manager — serves as the county’s primary law enforcement agency. Gaston County’s Sheriff’s Office still exists, and it handles duties related to its detention center, the county courthouse, legal proceedings, gun permit administration and other areas.

Beaufort County’s police committee, which consists of commissioners Hood Richardson, Stan Deatherage and Randy Walker, has held several meetings since it was established in February. Those meetings have consisted of preliminary discussions. The committee has also heard public comments from several individuals who believe the group’s purpose is rooted in a vendetta against Sheriff Ernie Coleman.

Richardson, the committee’s chairman, told those in attendance at a previous committee meeting that Coleman “has not done you justice.” Richardson has cited crime statistic reporting requirements and other accountability measures present in Gaston County’s model as potential benefits of a county police force.

The committee is a research arm of the county commissioners. If, upon hearing the committee’s final report, the commissioners decide to move forward with seeking to establish a county police force, local legislation would be needed to continue that process.  Kidwell said he would actively work to kill any such legislation.

“We think Kidwell jumped off the cliff without knowing what he was doing,” Richardson said Tuesday. “He jumped ahead of the gun. Because he didn’t know what the committee was, he didn’t know what we’re trying to do. He should have waited to make his comments.”

Previous police force committee meetings were held in the morning.  Committee members and the public agreed that the morning slot in the middle of the workweek wasn’t convenient, so this week’s meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m.

There will be another public comment period, and the committee is ready to hear their thoughts.

“If 300 people want to talk, we’re going to fit it in there if it takes three days and listen to them,” Richardson said.

Among other business, the committee will discuss its plans for an upcoming trip to Gaston County, which may be pushed back to a date that is more feasible for everyone involved.