By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke leaders will consider the options for creating a firing range so local law enforcement won’t have to travel to a remote part of the county without bathrooms to practice with their weapons.
The Hoke County Sheriff’s Office is nationally accredited, but it’s hampered by not having its own firing range facility for its staff members, Sheriff Roderick Virgil told commissioners this week.
Currently local law enforcement officers do their firearms training on a resident’s private property in South Hoke. The shooting range doesn’t have bathrooms or other amenities and is out in the woods, and is dependent on the owner’s agreement to allow the sheriff’s office to use it, Virgil said.
“It’s just not really suitable. We’re a nationally accredited agency, it just doesn’t look well,” he said.
Before Sheriff Dr. Hubert Peterkin’s passing, he was working on plans to create a firing range for law enforcement in the county. Virgil requested that the commissioners work with the department to make that happen.
Initially Virgil requested the board consider using county property near the animal shelter off of Doc Brown Road for a dual purpose. The department was already working on plans to use some of the property to store vehicles kept as evidence in major felony cases, as the office is running short on space for storing the vehicles at its lot on East Central Avenue.
Several commissioners raised concerns about using the property for a shooting range. Commission Chairman Allen Thomas said the county might consider that area for building affordable housing in the future. Commission Vice Chairman Tony Hunt brought up whether the shooting range noise might be a problem for the animals at the shelter.
The board supported the need for a firing range, and requested Virgil and county staff look at other possible locations.
“We’re willing to go where you put us,” Virgil said.
The sheriff requested and received the board’s approval for several other matters during the meeting.
Commissioners approved plans to hire a master canine handler who can conduct in-house canine handler training for officers.
“That’s something that we’ve never had before. It’s something new to Hoke County, we’re pretty excited about it,” Virgil said. It will save money in the long run because now deputies doing that training won’t have to travel to other counties to work with departments’ master canine handlers, he said.
The board also approved spending funds related to equipping a vehicle and purchasing a police dog for the canine handler.
The commissioners likewise approved a request from Virgil to transfer existing money in the sheriff’s budget to pay for a bonus for jail employees. They’re understaffed and work long hours, often having to cover for each other – especially if one person has to be out due to COVID-19, officials discussed.
The board approved Virgil transferring the money already in his budget to pay for two $500 bonuses, which will be paid out to jail employees at the end of the third and fourth fiscal quarters in 2022.
Commissioners additionally approved declaring some items as surplus, including the duty weapon of Maj. John Pierce, who will receive the weapon upon his upcoming retirement.
Virgil offered other updates on how things are going with the department. The sheriff’s office is currently just about fully staffed with only one or two openings, and morale is improving, he said. The department also recruited several more experienced deputies to work at the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office. There were also four or five applicants seeking to work at the jail, the sheriff said.