[Photo: Participants at the meeting gathered to address the rise in shootings and other violence in Raeford and Hoke County. (Catharin Shepard photo)]
By Catharin Shepard • Editor • A community meeting held last Thursday night gave citizens a chance to voice their concerns and their ideas for how to make Hoke County a safer place.
About 100 people turned out to Leach Springs Missionary Baptist Church on Arabia Road to talk with law enforcement, members of the faith community and the Hoke County NAACP.
Raeford Police Chief Marc Godwin spoke on proactive policing and what the police department is doing to try and ward off crime in the city.
“It’s a good buzz word, but what does it mean? We pinpoint patterns of possible crime. We try to set up a deterrent before it happens,” he explained.
Godwin asked anyone attending from Robbins Heights to raise their hands. A few hands went up; Godwin said he hoped to see more in the future. That community in particular has been dealing with a high amount of crime, the police chief said.
“We just spent a year’s overtime budget in six months, and the majority of it in the Robbins Heights community, because of issues and trying to deter things from more issues happening,” he said. “We’re doing different things. We are pinpointing high-risk people. Now, I’m not sugar coating anything. We know who the bad guys are. They know who they are, the community knows who they are. We pinpoint those people to deal with them in the best way possible, and one avenue we’re going to do that – we’re going after these people not only on our level, we’re going after them federally.”
“We’re past the point of trying to make people do better. These people are carrying guns and killing other people,” Godwin said. Bringing other agencies in is one way to stop that, he said.
In Sheriff Roderick Virgil’s first year in office, his officers have handled many shootings.
“Since I’ve taken office it just seemed like everything, everybody wanted to shoot at people’s houses, people were shooting at one another,” Virgil said. And it was quite discouraging because I was born and raised here, and to see what is taking place in our community within the last year and a half or so, it’s very devastating and disheartening. I’m like, this isn’t the Raeford I was born and raised in.”
The sheriff’s office has taken steps to try and address the violence. The agency has created multiple task forces within the department to tackle violent crimes and drug activity. New license plate reader cameras coming to the county soon will help catch people who commit crimes, the sheriff said.
The office also tries to reach youth through youth programs such as summer camps. However, the participation just isn’t there, Virgil said.
“We’ve had them every other month and I think the most we’ve had is 20 (kids). The measure of the concern doesn’t match the participation, right? So that’s a problem,” he said.
Godwin said one of the biggest issues in investigating local crimes is people who have information about the cases, but don’t want to get involved. People may call with information but won’t provide details that could help lead to arrests, Godwin said.
“They’ll say yeah, I heard it was so-and-so, but how did you hear it? What did you see? Who did you hear it from so we can talk to them?” the police chief said. “Everybody’s willing to give us some information which is great because that means we have some trust in the community and they don’t mind talking with us. But nobody will cross that line and get involved.”
Godwin said he could understand where that fear comes from, but reassured the community that “once we get that from you, they’re gone, we’re going to get them.”
Commission Chairman Allen Thomas and Commissioners Harry Southerland and James Leach attended the meeting. Southerland praised the attendees for trying to make a difference.
“Your presence is indicative that you care about your community. We’ve got to realize that we’re not just one city or one county, we’re one community, and we’ve got to stand together,” Southerland said.
There were plenty of questions raised during the meeting discussion: how can law enforcement more effectively communicate with the public? What can be done to help youth? Is a lack of access to mental health services part of the problem?
Members of the public got a few minutes with a microphone to share their thoughts. There were helpful suggestions: Bringing back basketball programs in high-crime areas could be one way to keep youth active and out of trouble. Creating volunteer work groups to plan other outlets for youth could be a way to take action more quickly.
“We’ve got to be consistent, because it’s easy to start something…there’s enough of us in the community to keep it going. We can’t fight this fight just in this room,” Virgil said. “…I need you to commit and pledge within your heart that we’re serious about what we’re doing. People are dying. It’s all over the place, but we don’t live all over the place. We live here. So let’s do what we’ve got to do here, and maybe we can spread it to other communities.”
After the hour and a half meeting, the participants agreed to consider some of the options and return a month later to try and set some more concrete plans in place. The next meeting will be at Leach Springs Missionary Baptist Church at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, February 16. Members of the public are invited.
For more information on how to get involved, contact the Hoke County NAACP at firstname.lastname@example.org.