Top cops target misperceptions

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Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone

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Staff Writer

Friday, April 5, 2019

One of the top lawmen in the Twin Counties on Thursday sought to debunk the perception of local crime being a problem outside the community and said what is needed locally is backing for those enforcing the laws.

“If you look across the country, we don’t have any more crime than these other areas,” Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said.

At the same time, Stone said, “I hear it all the time about the crime in Rocky Mount.”

Stone was speaking at the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly legislative series.

Stone, Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson and city police Chief George Robinson appeared together as a panel at the gathering, held at the Holiday Inn Rocky Mount and attended by approximately 60 people.  

The trio was asked by forum moderator David Joyner about an ongoing battle in the region of stating facts versus there being an alarm not measurable with the facts.

Joyner wanted to know ways the business community can help calm people so deputies and officers can do their jobs effectively.

Stone told the Chamber gathering he and Atkinson, after arriving at law enforcement association meetings, “get beat up on it all time” when talking about the crime locally.

“I can tell you the crime here is no more than it is in Greenville, no more than it is in Wilson, no more than it is in any other community,” Stone said. “But I can tell you what we do have. We’ve got a solvability rate that is very high.”

Stone told the Chamber gathering the biggest thing the community can do is support law enforcement.

He cited the need for good education and training of personnel, along with the funding needed to hire personnel.

“You’ve got to work with us so that we can have the tools and the people that we need, the professionals, to be able to do their duty,” he said.

Atkinson said while he believes this is a great community to live in, perception is important and what one puts out on the internet goes nationwide.

Atkinson was referring to what he views as inaccurate criticisms online about local law enforcement agencies not doing this or that.

“At the end of the day, we can’t continue to beat each other up in the media,” Atkinson said. “We can’t continue to beat each other up on social media.

“When we go travel across the state, they have the same issues. But guess what? They don’t beat each other up.”

He noted his office is dealing with a homicide case, with the victim’s family advising his personnel, “Do your job.”

He said, however, when his personnel go into the community, there are residents telling them, “Ya’ll do y’all’s job first, then we’ll help you.”

Robinson made clear he wants to back away from the negative.

“We have to do a better job at selling our story — and that’s one thing that I’m working on with our social media contacts,” Robinson said.  “Whenever you see a negative story, counteract it.”

He also said most of the shootings in Rocky Mount are gang-related.

“There’s not a bandit running around shooting at people,” he said.

From the audience, Nash County Commissioner Fred Belfield wanted to know about how to keep criminals, after completing their time behind bars, from getting guns and again committing crimes.

Stone, in response, asked the audience what they think is the No. 1 way such people are getting firearms.

Some in the audience said stealing, which prompted Stone to ask where from. Some in the audience said family and Stone said a lot of them are in fact stolen from family members.

Then he told the audience, “I would say the majority of ‘em are coming out of unlocked cars.”

Noting he teaches a concealed carry class, he said he advises, “If you’re going to be responsible enough to carry a firearm, be responsible enough to lock your door.”

Atkinson, meantime, is concerned about decent, law-abiding companions or spouses of gang members seeking pistol permits so those gang members, in turn, can be issued firearms.

Robinson said there are numerous people his department is looking at right now because they are repeat offenders.

He made clear if such people continue to engage in the same behavior, his department can seek stiff sentences for them in the federal court system.

Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs asked whether all crime is reported as apples to apples nationwide.

Stone, noting Nash County has had one burglary this year, said the time to worry is when something is continuing and nobody is doing anything about the situation.

Stone said at the end of the day, “We’re taking care of the citizens — and the crime is not as high as what people think it is. And when it is, it’s being solved and it’s being dealt with.”

Robinson made clear he has never really been a fan of statistics.

Robinson said his bottom line is, “If you don’t feel comfortable walking outside of your home, going to the mall with your family, going to Walmart, going to the park — that means we still have a lot of work to do.”