HPD Officer Fails To Meet The New Standard Of Excellence

When is the town going to finally require a full, independent audit of the Huntersville Police Department? Why is a majority on the current town board not interested in verifying how the largest town department spends $13 MILLION of taxpayer dollars? HPD “surplus” equipment just floating around the internet for sale (just because a former town manager steals property from the taxpayers and “gives” it to you doesn’t make it any less stolen property) – no big deal, no need to ensure an accurate inventory, not like HPD keeps anything valuable or dangerous in their taxpayer paid-for inventory. Almost $700K in HPD “contract services” not broken out by line item in yet another budget, but the town board will go ahead and vote again to approve a budget Monday night that is less than transparent. When are the politicians (and candidates) in Huntersville going to stop worrying about what the SSPBA might say about them and instead start worrying about ensuring all HPD officers are held to the same standard and that all HPD policies and town personnel policies apply equally to every officer? Guess those $1,000 contributions the SSPBA hand out matter more than doing the right thing. How much did HPD screwing over the K9 officer cost Huntersville taxpayers and when is someone going to be held accountable for that situation? All that to say, why am I still wasting time writing all of these articles when nothing ever seems to change?

Last week I promised an answer to the question what a moving van, a local golf league, and the CMS Police Dept. have in common. In case the answer wasn’t obvious, it’s newly re-hired HPD Officer Tom Seifert (probably obvious to everyone except the HPD officer(s) responsible for investigating the recent “armed robbery” in the Stephens Grove neighborhood since it’s been two weeks now and there still isn’t any evidence any “armed robbery” took place but apparently the responsible officer(s) thinks it’s ok to allow neighbors to continue to worry about an armed robber on the loose… But I digress.).

According to HPD’s new standard of excellence, a single alleged violation of the town’s personnel policy or HPD policy is enough to justify disciplinary action against a long-time officer with no history of complaints or reprimands. Based on conversations with multiple HPD sources, Ofc. Seifert has used on-duty officers to perform personal tasks on multiple occasions, including as a moving crew for both himself and Lt. Latza and as bank-runners to make deposits at a local bank for the weekly golf league he helps to run at Birkdale. If using town equipment to promote a golf tournament unrelated to the town or HPD isn’t a possible violation of any town or HPD policy, surely using on-duty officers to perform personal tasks is worthy of investigation to determine if any town or HPD policies were violated by Ofc. Seifert or any other HPD officer who knew about or approved such activities. The new standard of excellence must be upheld!

HPD sources have told me that during Ofc. Seifert’s prior stint with HPD before leaving for the Mecklenburg Co. Sheriff’s Office he used on-duty officers he supervised at least twice as a moving crew. According to one source, Ofc. Seifert called him a few years back prior to his shift and advised him to wear shorts and a t-shirt to work the next day because he was going to be helping someone move. That someone ended up being Lt. Bryan Latza and on-duty HPD officers helped with his move from Cornelius to Huntersville (or possibly right across the Concord line since the move was a few years ago and the source recalled it being somewhere in the vicinity of Poplar Tent Rd.). Another source confirmed a similar experience when he, along with at least three other officers, helped Ofc. Seifert move a large amount of furniture from his house in Huntersville to his current house in Lincoln County. All while on the clock getting paid. Allegedly. Of course, nothing wrong with using your work pals to help you move, but us regular folks have to wait until after work or on the weekends for this kind of help. Must be nice to have taxpayers help defray your moving expenses. Allegedly.

In addition to using on-duty officers as movers, a source stated that on multiple occasions over the past few years Ofc. Seifert required them to perform personal tasks related to the “Birkdale Golf League.” What is the Birkdale Golf League? Based on its website, it appears to be an informal weekly golf league sponsored by Hickory Tavern and presented by Crossover Sports played at the Birkdale Golf Course in Huntersville and that requires an $80 league fee payable to Crossover Sports along with weekly fees to be paid in cash at the registration table prior to play for the evening. If you have any questions about the league rules or information about the league, you’re directed to contact Tom Seifert at a cell number or crossoversportsonline.com email address. And what is Crossover Sports? According to the NC Secretary of State’s website, it’s an LLC organized in 2006 for “promotions and online sports marketing” with three members listed on its most recent Annual Report – one of whom is Ofc. Seifert (although Seifert’s name doesn’t appear on the LLC documents until the 2011 Annual Report).

Multiple sources confirmed Ofc. Seifert spends a large amount of time during the work week doing work related to the Birkdale Golf League (I’m still waiting on a pending records request to confirm this information.). One source stated, “It was a running joke between some of us whenever we saw the Sergeant [Seifert] working on his laptop we knew we wouldn’t be getting much help from him until the golf scores were entered.” Another source told me Ofc. Seifert directed them to make deposits for him at a local bank (possibly the Suntrust at Sam Furr and Hwy 21, but the source couldn’t confirm, just that it was near the library around the Sam Furr/Hwy 21 intersection) while on duty on at least 5-10 occasions over the past few years and told me these deposits – which always reportedly contained “stacks of cash” – were related to the golf league based on the deposit slips that were always filled out by Ofc. Seifert. The same source also said they had observed Ofc. Seifert frequently using a subordinate to make golf league “score sheets” while on duty for the various weekly pairings. Allegedly.

Of course, nothing wrong with a group of buddies from all over the North Mecklenburg area getting together on a Thursday evening for some socializing and a round of golf in a cash league run by an LLC with an HPD officer as a member of the LLC and primary organizer of the weekly golf league. But, seems to me certain sections of the town’s personnel policy or a few HPD policies like Directive 1.40 might say otherwise.

Oh, and the CMS Police reference, that’s where Ofc. Seifert is interested in working next according to a source who told me they were contacted by a friend at the CMS Police Dept. asking about their experience with Ofc. Seifert at HPD. Of course, nothing wrong with someone trying to better themselves with a new job opportunity, but I thought the town board had fixed all the issues with officer retention after the pay raise they gave HPD last year? If so, why do we still have experienced officers seeking employment with other law enforcement agencies?

Now all we need is a brave officer to formally complain about any of the above and maybe we’ll see some changes. Maybe even the same brave officer who found the bravery to complain about the K9 officer a few weeks after his allegedly discriminatory remark might find the same bravery to complain about any of the above? I’m sure ISS would be perfectly willing to take more taxpayer money to investigate yet another situation at HPD.

Like I wrote last week, this isn’t rocket science folks. When people are held to different standards, morale suffers. How many patrol officers get to use other on-duty officers as a moving crew or run their side gigs on company time without fear of being disciplined? How many supervisors know or should know about personal work being done on company time or town equipment being used for personal business, or officers being used for personal benefit or for outside employment, or ongoing violations of town or HPD policies, or clear conflicts of interest, or otherwise failing to meet the new HPD standard of excellence, but are choosing to remain silent?

As always, if you have information you would like to share your privacy will be protected. For example, information like credit cards that are issued to supervisors being used to purchase SWAT equipment and other items outside of the normal budget process? I’d really be interested in learning more about that program.

Eric

Holding HPD Accountable To Their New Standard Of Excellence

There’s a new chief at the Huntersville Police Department and he’s enforcing a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to actual violations (or even just alleged violations that are used as a pretext to get rid of someone…) of HPD policy or the town’s personnel policy. I applaud the new standard of excellence being enforced at HPD and look forward to the chief fairly and objectively applying this standard across the department. If a single alleged violation of the town’s personnel policy is enough to justify disciplinary action and removal of a long-time officer with no history of complaints or reprimands, then surely a decade-long involvement by an HPD officer with a company separate and apart from HPD might possibly warrant some investigation into whether any violations of HPD policy or the town’s personnel policy have ever occurred, right? But more on Crossover Sports, LLC in the next article…

HPD Officer Tom Seifert was recently re-hired by the town back in December after a stint with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office. According to HPD sources, Officer Seifert sent an email on or about May 1, 2019 to “HPD All Employees” using his town email account promoting the “42nd Annual NC Law Enforcement Open” golf tournament (an annual event that appears to rotate throughout the state) to be held August 12, 13, and 14, 2019 at Cowan’s Ford Golf Course. August 12, 13, and 14 are weekdays.

According to the promotional materials attached to the email, this golf tournament is not advertised as being sponsored by HPD or limited to HPD personnel, nor is it advertised as benefiting the town or HPD in any way. So why is town equipment being put to personal use to advertise an event not related to town business and that could advance the financial or other private interest of themselves or others?

The entry fee for this tournament is listed as $175 (limited to the first 120 paid entrants – for a total of $21,000 in entry fees), which includes golf, on course beverages and snacks, a goody bag, and entry to a “Hospitality Room” at the Four Points by Sheraton on Northcross Dr. in Huntersville open each night at 6:30 with food and beverages provided by the tournament. Sounds like quite a deal for $175!

The tournament entry form states that questions or comments regarding the event can be directed to Officer Seifert at either his huntersville.org email address or the only phone number he lists on the HPD Phone List.

What’s not clear from the golf tournament promotional materials is where the money goes. Checks can be made out to the “42nd NC LEO” and mailed to a residential address in Stanley, NC. There is no website listed for this “42nd NC LEO” group found on the promotional materials and no corporate entity with a similar name was located based on a search online or at the Secretary of State’s website. There is a public facebook group – North Carolina Law Enforcement Annual Golf Tournament – listed on the promotional materials, but there is no additional website or organizational information at the facebook page. But, there is a nice photo of Officer Seifert holding his Overall Champion trophy from the “40th Annual NC Law Enforcement Open” golf tournament. Guess we all know who the best golfer at HPD is!

$21,000 is just the money raised from entry fees, but there are also sponsorship opportunities advertised up to $1,000 to be a sponsor for the Awards Banquet, along with a request from members of the community for donations. The promotional materials only state that any “unused” portion of the donations will be donated to two named charities – but what about the “used” portion of the fees and remainder of the donations and sponsorship monies, where does that money go?

I’m confident this annual golf tournament is a wonderful opportunity for law enforcement and emergency personnel statewide to come together on a Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday during the work week for some fun times on the golf course (and at the Sheraton Hospitality Room each night!) and surely some of the “unused” portion of the donations do indeed go to wonderful causes and charities. But, organizing a golf tournament of this size definitely requires a large time commitment. If Officer Seifert has already used town equipment at least once on May 1 to advertise an event not related to town business and that could advance the financial or other private interest of himself or others, is it possible he’s used town equipment for similar reasons before or after that date? Let’s hope not because under the new standard of excellence at HPD even a single actual (or alleged) violation of HPD policy or the town’s personnel policy could result in immediate disciplinary measures.

This isn’t rocket science folks. When people are held to different standards, morale suffers. Another pay raise band-aid isn’t going to fix this problem.

Check back next week for part 2 to find out what a moving van, a local golf league, and the CMS Police Dept. have in common.

Eric

Chief’s Departure Signals Positive Opportunity For HPD

After almost five years on the job, Huntersville Police Department Chief Cleveland Spruill provided his resignation to the town last Friday, December 14. He started with HPD in May 2014 after a long career in law enforcement that began in 1987. People immediately started asking why the seemingly sudden resignation, but rumors of the chief’s potential departure have been circulating for weeks now, especially over at HPD HQ. Another rumor that I still haven’t been able to confirm yet is that the town is considering giving Chief Spruill the Bearcat as a retirement present.

In case you’re worried about how the chief is going to pay the bills, don’t. He’ll likely be receiving his Special Separation Allowance (“SSA”) courtesy of Huntersville taxpayers once his retirement is official next month. What is the SSA you’re probably asking? Just a special benefit provided to eligible retired law enforcement in NC to see them through to social security eligibility when they reach the age of 62. Huntersville taxpayers are currently paying for this benefit for two other individuals.

So why does the chief’s departure signal a positive opportunity for HPD? Because the town now has a great opportunity to finally fix the morale problems that have been plaguing the department for years now, even before Chief Spruill was named chief. As I’ve already pointed out, low pay isn’t what’s wrong at HPD if you talk to the rank and file officers. And it appears the town has finally decided to do something about the real problems at HPD by naming an interim chief from outside the ranks of the current HPD leadership. The same problems I’ve written about before still apparently exist at HPD (abuse of surveillance equipment, abuse of the take home vehicle policy, abuse of overtime, etc.) so Interim Chief Bence Hoyle is going to have his hands full when he takes over in early January.

Sources within HPD have been reaching out to me since the news of Chief Spruill’s resignation last week to share some thoughts. No officer is still willing to speak on the record for fear of retaliation – which is justified since from what I hear command staff has been doing everything they can to find out who all is talking to me.

Regarding the breaking news last week – one source stated, “Most of us were jumping for joy when the news was made official. Now a few more in leadership need to be next on the chopping block.”

Regarding the next chief – the same source stated, “The worst possible mistake would be to just promote from within the current leadership ranks. The town needs to cut ties with most of the ranking command staff and maybe even demote or fire some of the lieutenants.”

Regarding Spruill’s time as chief – another source stated, “When Spruill came in, things temporarily improved, but he allowed command staff too much control so the problems under Potter continued. Spruill eventually seemed to disconnect from the department and many rank and file officers for unknown reasons. He let too many in command just tell him what he wanted to hear, while those same command staff undermined him behind his back as if they wanted to set him up for failure. These same people will now do whatever it takes to protect themselves when the interim chief starts in January.”

Here’s a suggestion for the incoming interim chief – instead of wasting time trying to find out who all is talking to me, why not spend time attempting to fix what’s wrong with the department and then no one will have a reason to talk to me. Might I suggest something easy like an anonymous, legitimate survey amongst all the officers as a start to get some honest feedback? For example, feedback like this from another source about HPD HQ being used like a free afterschool daycare. “How is it fair that Major Graham, who makes over $100K, has his kid dropped off at HQ in the afternoons after school and is allowed to hang out for 2-3 hours and run all over the place? If this kid gets hurt at HQ who is responsible? What if a criminal gets loose or if a major call comes in – who is going to babysit the kid while we’re all responding to the call?”

How is that fair, indeed. When leadership gets to play by different rules, whether at HPD or any other company/organization, we all know what effect that has on morale.

The town has a great opportunity to finally fix some of the problems at HPD when the interim chief starts in a few short days. And the town manager is going to have a very important decision to make when it comes to naming a full-time replacement for Chief Spruill in the next few months. Let’s hope we keep moving Huntersville in the right direction with a chief who will finally hold all officers to the same standards and require command staff to be accountable for their actions and the actions of their subordinates.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Huntersville.

Eric

Smile, Huntersville, HPD Is Watching You

Digital video cameras, covert audio recording systems, pole camera systems, cell phone surveillance systems, license plate readers, and GPS trackers. And this is just the surveillance equipment we know about. Why does the Huntersville Police Department need all of this surveillance equipment and who are they tracking with it? Is HPD violating our civil liberties? Is HPD using GPS trackers in violation of the law to circumvent the warrant process? Let’s hope not since the law is pretty clear on this being a super no-no. If you’ve ever been pulled over by HPD on questionable grounds and you’d like to share your story, feel free to reach out, your privacy will be protected.

[Six (6) page document below. You can click through the pages by using the arrows at the bottom of the document.]

HPD surveillance response

Where is the town board on this issue? Who is providing oversight on all of this surveillance? What data is HPD collecting on residents? Who are they sharing this data with? Why is the town board not concerned about the potential for abuse this stockpile of surveillance equipment poses? What good is all this surveillance equipment if the town can’t even keep Public Works equipment from getting stolen (twice this year already!)? Why is HPD sitting on over $600K in asset forfeiture funds as of May? The town board should be demanding answers from HPD at Monday night’s town board meeting about all of this surveillance equipment, but they won’t. And the unsupervised surveillance of Huntersville residents, any anyone who travels through Huntersville, will continue…

But hey, if you don’t have anything to hide you shouldn’t be worried about HPD watching you, right?

Eric

Problems Persist At HPD Despite Pay Raises

I questioned months ago whether low pay and pay disparities were the only reasons officers were leaving or thinking about leaving the Huntersville Police Department (“HPD”). Spoiler alert – they aren’t. Low morale is another major problem within the department. And while the salary issue may have been addressed by the town board, our elected officials have been woefully inept at addressing the well-known issues at HPD causing low morale. The morale situation has become so bad at HPD that sources within the department have reached out to me for assistance even though they know they are risking their jobs by doing so. No officer has been willing to speak on the record at this time for fear of retaliation.

So, what are some of the issues affecting morale at HPD according to these sources? For starters: high ranking officers circumventing the 911 system to hide their personal problems, family members of high ranking officers being given preferential treatment after being lawfully stopped by HPD, rental vehicles supposedly needed for investigations being used like personal vehicles, officers abusing the secondary employment policy by getting paid for outside work while on the clock at HPD, EEOC complaints being filed, and just all around wasteful spending on things within the department that don’t make the community any safer. I’ve submitted multiple records requests related to a number of these items over the past week and plan to continue to investigate since the town board is unwilling to do any investigation of their own. I guess you could say I’m only taking the banal advice from the dais to say something if I see something…

Another source of ongoing contention is the abuse of the take home vehicle policy. This abuse has clearly continued with the tacit approval of the town board despite my reporting on the problems with the policy earlier this year (remember those $1,000 SSPBA contributions? I ‘member…). The current take home vehicle policy is not only costing taxpayers potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, it also continues to be used as a reward for favored officers even if they don’t qualify for a take home vehicle according to HPD’s own written policy. Officer T. Seth Hager continues to be allowed a take home vehicle paid for by Huntersville taxpayers for his 80+ mile round trip commute to work each day even though he has only worked a total of THREE (3) K9 deployments so far this year according to data from the KBCOPS system provided by a source within the department.

Where is the oversight from HPD command staff?

Finally, the issue of overtime pay. According to sources, the majority of overtime is going to higher ranking officers, primarily certain lieutenants. One source described the situation as follows, “Some lieutenants openly brag about all of their OT, but they’re not even the ones responding to road calls. Most days we have more officers sitting in the office than we do on the road and by 4pm it’s usually a ghost town at HQ.” [Huntersville PD HQ is located at 9630 Julian Clark Ave. in the business park.] With crime being so low in Huntersville it would seem odd that so much OT is required, especially if that OT is going to higher ranking officers sitting behind desks at HQ. “We just have way too many chiefs and not enough Indians, too many supervisors,” is the root of the problem according to one source. The top-heavy nature of the department is a problem the town board is very familiar with after having just sat through many hours of discussion about pay bands and pay raises. The frustration with the situation was obvious when another source explained that, “When you walk into HQ you can even see certain lieutenants watching Netflix or youtube on their computers so why do they need all that OT when they could just be spending time in the office during normal business hours actually doing their work?”

According to town staff, overtime pay is counted as compensation by the NC Local Governmental Employee’s Retirement System. Why does this matter? Because all NC taxpayers are on the hook for the massive $40 BILLION in unfunded liabilities for state retiree pension and health benefits. If only we had an elected official in Huntersville who supposedly understands pension issues and could help explain the consequences of pension padding to the other board members…

Where is the oversight from town hall?

When is the town finally going to require an independent audit of HPD?

What is it going to take for town hall to take some action, any action, to address these issues affecting morale with as much vigor as they addressed the issues of low pay and pay disparities?

There is more to come. I am currently waiting for responses to multiple records requests and will provide updates once more information is obtained. But, the worst part is what I’ve described above isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. You can only hide behind a hashtag for so long before the truth is revealed.

My offer still stands. If you have any thoughts you’d like to share about the problems within the department, feel free to reach out to me. Your privacy will be protected.

Eric

Firearm Brandished Inside New Huntersville Recreation Center

Sadly, schools aren’t the only soft targets we need to worry about locally. According to the incident report posted below, an unnamed individual brought a firearm into the new Huntersville Recreation Center around 2:30pm during basketball open gym back on Sunday, July 22 and threatened at least one person at the Rec Center.

Why has this incident not been reported by any local press and why did the town board not discuss this incident last week during their August 6 board meeting? How long have board members known about this incident? Have there been other incidents involving firearms at the Rec Center or other town facilities that haven’t been disclosed yet?

What steps, if any, have been taken by the town to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future? Was a risk management assessment ever done by the town at the new Rec Center to determine if security measures were appropriate?

Is it known whether the suspect is a Huntersville resident or someone from out of town? Has any description of the suspect been made public or posted at the Rec Center to alert staff/members in the event the suspect returns? Has the suspect even been banned from the facility? Has there been an arrest yet?

Does the town just need to install a larger NO GUNS ALLOWED sign since clearly the suspect didn’t see the sign currently posted at the entrance prohibiting guns otherwise they obviously wouldn’t have brought their gun inside? The incident report indicates the Rec Center has a sign posted at the entrance that no firearms are permitted inside – the sign must have been installed after this picture posted on facebook was taken during the grand opening ceremony back in January.

When I contacted the Rec Center to inquire about basketball open gym hours I was told by the person who answered the phone that basketball open gym had to be shut down for a while due to it being super booked, but to check back in September when it might be back open to the public. So, is town staff being instructed to misrepresent why basketball open gym hours aren’t available at the facility primarily set up for basketball if a member of the public inquires?

Would the town be better off selling this facility as soon as possible to the highest bidder so the town can both decrease its liability exposure and so taxpayers don’t have to continue to subsidize the recreational choices of others?

So many questions.

2018-07-22 Rec center incident report

Eric

HPD Take Home Vehicles – Cost or Benefit?

UPDATE: The town has confirmed there are also four (4) take home vehicles in the Engineering & Public Works Dept. I don’t know whether this means four employees have take home vehicles they use to drive to/from work every day, or if there are four vehicles available for use if needed. But, the town has also confirmed there is no written policy similar to HPD’s take home policy governing the use of take home vehicles by Engineering & Public Works. Why is the town board continuing to allow such a massive liability without any oversight??


When the news broke on July 16 that a Huntersville police officer was involved in an accident (the accident was not his fault) in his unmarked police vehicle while on his way to work, one detail that stood out to me was the location of the accident – at the Rowan and Cabarrus County line. Why was HPD officer Ryan Smith driving to work all the way from Rowan County in an HPD vehicle? I wanted to learn more about HPD’s take home vehicle policy (“Policy”) to find out if Officer Smith was the only officer driving such a long distance to and from work each day so I sent a records request to the town for more information. Based on the information I received, Officer Smith’s situation is clearly not the exception to the rule at HPD.

The current HPD Policy (or “Personally Assigned Cruiser Program”) became effective on August 8, 2016. [See attached below] The current Policy rescinded the prior take home vehicle policy under Chief Phillip Potter that was effective from Nov. 21, 2011 until August 7, 2016. While the prior policy and the current Policy are very similar, Chief Cleveland Spruill made four (4) significant revisions to the Policy that greatly increased the annual mileage for HPD’s vehicle fleet: 1) the new Policy uses an arbitrary “outermost town limits” standard to determine to/from distance from the officer’s primary residence instead of a fixed point like HPD headquarters under the prior policy; 2) the new Policy uses “the actual straight line distance” from the officer’s home to the outermost town limits to determine to/from distance instead of “the actual shortest direct driving route distance as measured on public roadways” as under the prior policy; 3) the new Policy increased the number of categories of officers permitted to take an HPD vehicle up to 20 miles from the outermost town limits to now include SWAT, crash re-constructionists, and animal control; and 4) the new Policy added a provision giving the chief full discretion to grant approval for distances greater than 20 miles from the outermost town limits under unique circumstances after “consultation” with the town manager (but not the town board).

2018-07-17 1.43 DIRECTIVE PAC PROGRAM

The changes made to the Policy under Chief Spruill clearly resulted in additional costs to taxpayers, so why has there never been a public discussion by the town board about whether the additional costs of this new Policy outweigh any benefits? Additional costs such as increased liability for accidents and higher insurance costs, increased costs for fuel, increased wear/tear on the vehicle and higher maintenance costs, and the increased costs related to the frequency of needing new police vehicles once they hit a certain mileage mark (e.g., 100K miles). Don’t just take my word for it, here’s what Davidson’s Chief Penny Dunn had to say about the issue in an email from March 21, 2018 to one of her sergeants about their take home policy, “My understanding is there is a 10 mile limit, but officers are living and driving the vehicles further than 10 miles. My concerns are not just related to the cost for gas, wear/tear on the vehicle, increased mileage on the vehicle, and increased risk when driven further than our stated policy. There is also the impression that officers can live anywhere contrary to being close enough for a reasonable response time for emergencies…”

Thankfully, Officer Smith wasn’t injured in his recent accident, but his vehicle will still need to be repaired or possibly replaced. Have any other accidents taken place in an HPD vehicle during officer travel to/from work since the new Policy went into effect in August 2016 and, if so, how much has this cost the town? What if a major at fault accident involving significant property damage and/or personal injury takes place while an HPD officer is driving his take home vehicle to/from work pursuant to the current Policy – is the town prepared for this responsibility?

Do the costs outweigh the benefits?

Has the Policy actually increased officer visibility resulting in a deterrent effect? Has the Policy actually increased time efficiency of officers or resulted in quicker response times to emergencies? Does HPD make any efforts or have any ability to actually track the mileage on their vehicles related to travel to/from work? Has any audit ever been performed on the HPD vehicle fleet with regards to mileage that is not work-related, vehicle maintenance, or fuel costs since the Policy went into effect? Is there any independent verification by superior officers of the distance submitted by an officer on their Take Home Vehicle Request Form, or is it up to each officer to determine their own distance from their residence to/from the outermost town limits? If each officer makes their own determination of distance to/from the outermost town limits, are there any officers currently taking home vehicles in violation of the distance limits in HPD’s Policy? One google map printout, for example, shows a “straight line” distance of 19.8 miles from a location in Gaston County to an arbitrary point on the west side of Huntersville near Latta Plantation. But, if you barely move the computer mouse to measure distance on google maps to another arbitrary point on the west side of Huntersville near Latta it’s very, very easy to exceed the 20 mile from the outermost town limit threshold.

Per Sections A.(C.)(3) and G. of HPD’s Policy – it seems fair to categorize the assignment of a take home vehicle as more of a perk or fringe benefit rather than a necessity for officers who need take home vehicles or newer fleet vehicles the most for work related purposes and not just commuting to/from work. Would it be more beneficial to assign take home vehicles based upon an officer’s job requirements/duties and not simply as a perk or fringe benefit of promotion? And are there any unreported HPD vehicles being used for travel to/from work that need to have their mileage audited – e.g., vehicles used for undercover purposes or vehicles obtained with asset forfeiture/equitable sharing funds?

Again, do the costs outweigh the benefits?

According to the most current HPD Personally Assigned Cruiser list I received on July 19, 95 officers were listed (it’s unclear if the list includes any non-sworn HPD employees) and 86 of those 95 were assigned a take home vehicle. 27/86 (31.3%) are listed as having a take home vehicle and live within the town limits. 28/86 are listed as having a take home vehicle and living within 20 miles of the outermost town limits, but six (6) of the 28 are listed as “remote park” so they park their police vehicle at a pre-approved location and then drive their personal vehicle the remaining distance to their residence. So, 22/86 (25.5%) drive a take home vehicle to a residence within 20 miles of the outermost town limits. Leaving the largest percentage listed, 31/86 (36%), having a take home vehicle and living within 12 miles of the outermost town limits (the limit for all other non-command officers).

Based on information I received from the town, the officer driving the farthest distance one way to work appears to be Officer T. Seth Hager. A website printout that appears to be dated Dec. 19, 2016 shows a “straight line” distance of 36 miles from Officer Hager’s residence to 9615 Northcross Center Ct. in Huntersville (behind the Lowes in the Target shopping center off Sam Furr which is apparently where Officer Hager reports for duty…). If you calculate the actual driving distance from Officer Hager’s residence to that same address in Huntersville using google maps, the shortest driving distance is 42.6 miles – a difference of approx. 6.6 miles, or 13.2 miles round trip.

In case it’s not obvious, the problem with using a “straight line” to calculate distance traveled for an automobile is that automobiles can’t fly – yet.

Officer Hager’s situation is unique in that he is the only officer who the chief has specifically approved (with concurrence from former town manager Greg Ferguson) for travel at a greater distance than allowed under the Policy, but a number of other officers travel nearly as far to/from work as Officer Hager on a daily basis. The officer involved in the recent accident, Officer Ryan Smith, for example, reports a “straight line” distance of 17.7 miles to the outermost town limits, but if you calculate the actual driving distance from his residence to HPD HQ (since no specific outermost town limit address was used by Officer Smith unlike Officer Hager), the shortest driving distance is 29.3 miles. And the same underestimation of mileage using a “straight line” calculation could be demonstrated for the officers coming from Bessemer City, Kings Mountain, Sherrills Ford, Iron Station, Lincolnton, China Grove, Catawba, or Waxhaw.

The town board most recently approved the expenditure of $177,835 to help pay part of the costs for eleven (11) new police vehicles during the Nov. 20, 2017 town board meeting (this amount had already been approved in the HPD budget for FY17/18). What percentage/portion of these eleven new vehicles were necessary, even in part, due to the additional mileage being placed on old vehicles solely related to travel to/from work pursuant to the current Policy? Someone in the town’s finance department with access to complete details on every take home vehicle could easily come up with an accounting breakdown of the effect of this Policy on the number of new vehicles HPD needs on an annual basis.

Interestingly, every “straight line” map I received in response to my request for information, except for Officer Seth Hager’s (which was dated Dec. 19, 2016), was a google map printout with a Google copyright date of 2018 and one printout even appeared to be dated the same day I submitted my request! I just can’t figure out why all the google map printouts would be dated 2018 when the current policy went into effect all the way back in August 2016??

Compared with other local departments, HPD’s Policy is definitely not an outlier, but HPD’s Policy should still be judged on its own merits. Cornelius allows take home vehicles within 20 miles of town limits, Mooresville within 20 miles of “contiguous” town limits or at the chief’s discretion, Davidson doesn’t yet have a formal written policy on distance – but their department allows take home vehicles up to 10 miles of town limit, Matthews no more than 15 miles from “contiguous” town limits, CMPD allows marked vehicles up to a 45 mile radius in Mecklenburg and counties contiguous with Mecklenburg (I wasn’t able to easily interpret their policy on unmarked vehicles), and the MCSO allows for a 50 mile radius from the government center in Charlotte. From what I could tell reviewing the other policies only HPD’s policy specifies how to calculate distance to/from work – it would be interesting to learn if any department still uses the shortest driving distance standard rather than a straight line.

One final point – the MCSO’s policy appeared to be the only policy with language pertaining to the IRS. MCSO’s policy states, “The County will comply with guidelines from IRS Publication 15B (Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits) to determine the value, if any, of the commuting use of a vehicle provided to an employee during the commute certification benefit year…” and goes on to state, “Personal use of an employer-provided vehicle is defined by the IRS as a taxable non-cash fringe benefit. These regulations apply to employees who drive County vehicles to and from home. Employees driving a County vehicle that is not exempt from the take-home rule will be subject to applicable taxes.” Even if most or all of HPD’s take home vehicles are considered a working condition benefit excluded from taxable income, wouldn’t it be smart to include similar language in our Policy in case the town or an HPD employee does have some tax liability for a take home vehicle?

But just because the IRS doesn’t consider a take home vehicle for law enforcement a taxable benefit doesn’t mean it’s not a huge benefit nonetheless. How many other town employees (or anyone reading this) get a take home vehicle so they don’t have to put mileage and wear/tear on their personal vehicle for work travel or worry about having to pay for gas during the work week?

The current HPD Policy has been in effect for almost two years now with no oversight from the town board (no oversight of the town’s emergency services seems to be a theme…). Since it’s clear the town board doesn’t want to make time to discuss how to protect the residents of Huntersville from corrupt officials in the future by enacting a new bid policy for contracts, maybe they can at least make time during their board meeting next week to discuss whether this Policy is a cost or a benefit to Huntersville residents.

And speaking of police vehicle mileage, how many additional miles is the used HPD armored vehicle going to rack up next week when it’s paraded around for National Night Out? Gotta keep the miles on that odometer low so it holds its value!

Eric