The column below originally appeared in the Herald Weekly on July 28, 2016. I have included two documents: the HPD crime stats memo and the retainer agreement with the private law firm used by HPD. No investigation was ever done by the Town Board in response to this column. Maybe certain board members will be willing to ask tougher questions during the budget process this year since it is an election year in Huntersville.
The following disclaimer is being issued at the outset to ensure it is not missed by readers who are inclined to suffer from confirmation bias or by those who may not always make it to the end of my columns. Criticism of certain aspects of administration at the Huntersville Police Department is not criticism of law enforcement in general.
To those who would question my decision to pen a column that even hints at criticism of local law enforcement given recent tragic events, I would respond by asking why is it left to a part-time opinion columnist to ask these questions and present these facts to Huntersville residents? Why did none of your elected officials in Huntersville publicly question the information provided to them in a June 1 memorandum from the HPD before voting on June 6 to approve a million-dollar increase in the police budget over last year’s budget?
The following facts are presented without comment for the consideration of The Herald Weekly readers:
• $10,599,808 was approved for HPD in the fiscal year 2015-16 budget; Commissioners Melinda Bales, Rob Kidwell and Danny Phillips voted against this budget.
• $11,630,826 was recommended for HPD in the 2016-17 budget (the approved budget has not yet been published online, so the final approved numbers may vary slightly); Commissioners Mark Gibbons, Charles Guignard and Phillips voted against this budget.
• Commissioners Gibbons, Guignard and Phillips supported an alternative 2016-17 budget voted down on June 6 that would have lowered the property tax rate and would have offset this tax cut, in part, by reducing the requested police budget increase by approximately $400,000. Commissioners Bales, Dan Boone and Kidwell voted against this alternative budget and all cited the cut in the requested police budget as a reason for their vote.
• HPD provided year-to-date crime statistics to the mayor, town board and town manager in a memorandum dated June 1 (see below), five days before the budget vote on June 6, that showed zero rapes in 2015 and five in 2016 through May 29; this memorandum showed violent crime has risen 30.43 percent from 2015.
• Thus far, I have been provided with four out of the five incident reports for the rapes in 2016; one incident report is still being withheld by HPD. One incident report describes a rape that allegedly occurred in 2004, and two have been cleared by the district attorney after prosecution was declined. The two cleared rapes show clearance dates in March and April 2016, before the June 1 memorandum was provided to the board.
• Removing these three rapes from the violent crime stats would result in a violent crime increase of only 17.39 percent instead of 30.43 percent (assuming the one incident report still being withheld also shows a date in 2016).
• My initial request for public records related to the 2016 rapes was denied by HPD despite public records law to the contrary, see NCGS §132-1.4(c); I was provided three incident reports only after I pressed back and cited this law.
• HPD retains a private law firm in Greensboro – Smith Rodgers, PLLC, separate from the town attorney, for real-time tactical legal needs at a cost to taxpayers of $18,070 (see retainer agreement below) for a one-year period. This private law firm has contacted me about my routine request for records.
I sent another request for records to HPD on July 15 for all reported rapes, sexual assaults and/or other sexual offenses reported in 2015, but I have not yet received a response. Is it possible a rape was reported in 2015 for an incident that occurred in a prior year, or were rapes reported in 2015 but ultimately not prosecuted by the district attorney like the two in 2016? Just more questions that should have been asked publicly by your elected officials in Huntersville.
Finally, I’m pleased to report the BearCat was delivered last weekend, coincidentally just in time for National Night Out. We should all sleep a little sounder tonight with this tool at HPD’s disposal.