Belhaven PD hopes to double its force, needing only four

Published 2:16 pm Friday, August 18, 2023

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Hiring four more officers would double Belhaven Police Department’s force which they’re hoping to do in the near future. Like many police departments across the state, Belhaven PD is trying to recruit many when few officers are looking for new employment. 

Police Chief Chris Kelly has been with the police department for 13 years and for that time the department’s capacity has been eight; however, he said it has been as high as ten.

Today, with only four officers in 2023 Belhaven Police Department must now rely on deputies with Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office to pick up uncovered shifts which can be during the day or night so that the town has 24/7 coverage. 

“We have a great relationship with the sheriff’s office…I feel like they’re helping us out where we need it and any time that we can we’re going to help them out as well,” Kelly said. 

“We are already dispatched through Beaufort County Communications. So they know when we’re here and when we’re not here. If there’s not a Belhaven officer on then a deputy will respond and help out or be in the area patrolling,” Kelly said. 

Kelly said the town is not interested in dissolving the police department and having Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office be the sole law enforcement agency in Belhaven. 

“I feel like the council and the community are very committed to keeping us here,” Kelly said. “I feel like we’re very blessed in Belhaven to where we have a great relationship with our community,” Kelly said, adding that their commitment is what has kept him in Belhaven. 

Belhaven is a smaller community with about 1,400 residents. According to the police department, they receive an average of 125 calls per month which equates to an estimated 1,500 calls per year. Per month, there are about 25 traffic stops, three accidents, 2,100 business checks and 600 residence checks. Business checks are routine procedures to ensure windows and doors are secured and there is no suspicious activity at a business. These checks typically occur during the night and early morning. For residence checks, an officer will inspect a property for any abnormalities. Residence checks can be requested year round.  

A challenge faced by all law enforcement agencies is the limited number of people graduating from Basic Law Enforcement Training programs. In 2015, Beaufort County Community College graduated 17 students. In April of 2022, there were four graduates for a decrease of 76%. 

Kelly speculates the reason why interest in joining law enforcement has declined is, “people are coming into the workforce and they’re having a plethora of choices. They’re having to weigh their options – whether it’s time commitment versus money versus the ability to spend time with their family versus promotions within that career field.” 

To encourage more people to attend a BLET, the police department offers a scholarship through the Town of Belhaven to pay for tuition in full. 

For new graduates, working at a small department can give them plenty of experience and guidance. 

“[Working in a small town] provides a unique experience. You get a chance to learn this job. It gives you a chance to learn at a pace that is maybe not overwhelming so you’re able to digest it a lot,” Kelly said. 

For the few officers graduating from a BLET program, Belhaven struggles to compete for recruits with local agencies like Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department. 

“It’s hard for smaller towns to compete with bigger municipalities, cities so we’ve got to try to rely on our strengths,” Kelly said. Those strengths are; working together as a team and working closer with the community, he continued. 

Belhaven can offer some new radios, tasers and a $2,500 sign on bonus. Of the total $2,500, $1,500 is given after the first 30 days and the remaining $1,000 is given after one year. 

They are working toward purchasing more vehicles and in the future building a new police station. Their current station is a historic train depot. At a town council meeting on Monday, Aug. 14, Town Manager Lynn Davis shared with council members that the town has had plans for a new station since 2013. Those plans show a new station behind town hall. Davis said the current station is becoming cramped by evidence and state requirements change and it is an aging building that requires more maintenance. 

A new station she said can be an incentive for possible recruits. “This also is something that will aid with recruitment to show a long lasting commitment to our police officers and our police department…” 

The plans from 2013 will need to be updated, Davis said, to ensure it is built to code and meets various compliance requirements in addition to having a firm estimate of construction costs.