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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., displays the signed article of impeachment against President Donald Trump in an engrossment ceremony before transmission to the Senate for trial on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Council scrutinizes vacancies on police force

City Councilman Lige Daughtridge during a council work session asked interim police Chief Charles Williams where the city stands regarding the number of vacancies in the police department.

Williams said there are about 20 right now and what followed his response were more questions and a discussion.

Daughtridge wanted to know whether the number is consistent throughout the year or whether there has been an increase in vacancies.

Williams told Daughtridge he would have to do additional research and would be glad to provide more specific information later, but he said the number is what the police department is seeing in terms of a common trend in law enforcement.

Daughtridge asked the questions after Williams, as part of the council’s work session on Monday, provided the council with a report about crime in December.

During the work session, Daughtridge wanted to know whether the compensation has anything to do with or plays into the number of vacancies at Rocky Mount’s police department.

Williams said he and City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney discussed that topic a week prior.

Small-Toney said she spoke with Williams, as well as with former chief and soon-to-be-returning as interim Chief George Robinson, to get a sense of whether the city is behind in some way.

Small-Toney told the council, “The good news is we’re not.”

Small-Toney said what was learned is that because a sheriff can on the spot give someone a position coming out of a police academy as opposed to the person going through the city’s processes, that can be challenging for Rocky Mount’s police department.

Small-Toney made clear she believes in a very short time those people will migrate to the city.

“So there is a shell game, if you will, that is played — but there is nothing about our compensation package that causes us to be overly concerned about people leaving the organization,” Small-Toney said.

Small-Toney said the city may be challenged because the city cannot, due to high costs to the municipality, provide every police officer a car to and from his or her residence.

“But for the most part, it’s not an issue that is keeping us from recruiting and retaining people,” Small-Toney said.

“I think, really, it’s the environment of law enforcement these days,” Small-Toney said. “It may not be the most attractive profession at the moment.

“However, we’re hoping that the biggest, best and brightest recruits are coming through our processes,” Small-Toney said. “And I think very soon we’ll be able to put some of those academy participants actually on the street.”

Councilman Andre Knight made clear he sees this not as a matter of pay, but instead as a challenge of finding police officers who live in the community as opposed to having police officers commuting in to Rocky Mount.

Knight said he believes information from a couple of years ago showed that maybe less than 30 percent of Rocky Mount’s police officers lived in the city.

Knight made clear he wants an emphasis on trying to find home-grown police officers to serve on Rocky Mount’s police force.

Councilman T.J. Walker said he believes that would provide an opportunity to see if there is room for some community-based residential opportunities for police officers or any type of incentives for police officers willing to live in the city.

Daughtridge said that while he agrees with Knight, he checked to see what the City of Wilson pays and said the City of Rocky Mount is anywhere from 8 percent to 15 percent behind on the midpoint.

Knight asked Williams whether Rocky Mount police officers are leaving to join Wilson’s police force.

Williams said only one recently did so that he knows of.

Knight said, “OK, that’s what I thought. Thank you.”

Small-Toney also said the City of Rocky Mount recruits people from Wilson and other surrounding communities.

“So there are a variety of reasons, I suppose, why people (are) ending up working where it is that they work,” Small-Toney said.

Following up on Walker’s remarks, Small-Toney told Williams she believes housing-based incentives are offered to Rocky Mount police officers who live in the city and perhaps even in certain neighborhoods.

Williams said there are apartment complexes in Rocky Mount offering police officers a discounted rental rate in exchange for those police officers providing general security at those respective complexes.

Williams noted there has been a program in which houses are provided as residences to ensure police officers live in them to help provide community-based policing.

Williams also noted that Small-Toney has referred to having plans for future housing available for first responders and teachers.

“So I know we are headed in that direction, same line of thinking,” Williams said.

Vaccinations increase as virus cases surge


Edgecombe County has seen an increase of 152 new cases of COVID-19 since Monday while Nash County has reported an increase of 88 new cases.

The Edgecombe County Health Department no longer is reporting local totals, referring people instead to the state Department of Health and Human Services website. As of Wednesday, that website indicated that the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in the county is 3,607, an increase of 152 over the number reported Monday on the website.

The death toll in Edgecombe County also has increased on the state website, rising from 82 on Monday to 87 on Wednesday. The last number of deaths reported by the Edgecombe County Health Department more than a week ago was 89.

It is not clear if the state website numbers indicate a rise in actual deaths or just a rise in the number of deaths reported by the state website, which typically lags behind local health department reporting when that is available.

The Nash County Health Department on Wednesday reported a cumulative total of 6,881 virus cases. The number of COVID-related deaths in the county remains at 128.

“We continue to see a surge in cases in most counties across the state,” Nash County Health Director Bill Hill said. “We are also seeing quite a surge in hospitalizations across the state.”

That also applies to Nash UNC Heath Care, which has seen hospitalization numbers in the mid-50s over the past few days compared to highs in the 30s a few weeks ago. As of Wednesday, Nash UNC Health Care had 53 COVID patients admitted. Of that number, seven were in critical condition with three of them on ventilators, Hill said.

With the surge in cases, Hill said the health community is working hard to get vaccines distributed. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Nash County Health Department had administered roughly 1,500 or more vaccines in addition to another roughly 1,000 doses given through the hospital.

At a meeting of the Nash County COVID-19 Response Team meeting, Nash County Manager Zee Lamb questioned Hill about the percentage of doses distributed so far. Lamb said that he had seen an article from another news source stating that only about 25 percent of the doses of the vaccine given to North Carolina had been distributed.

Research reveals that article, which was published more than a week ago, was referring to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is monitoring distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. On Wednesday, that data reflected that roughly 31 percent of the doses sent to North Carolina had been administered.

Hill responded by saying that he only has access to about 300 doses at this time.

“It looks like Nash County is doing much better than the state average with roughly 80 to 85 percent of our doses administered,” Lamb said. “The county staff has been doing a great job.”

Hill said that while doses still are being given at small clinics like the one held Tuesday at the modular building behind the Nash County Health Department in Nashville, the county cannot host another large clinic like the one held last week until he receives another large shipment of the vaccines. The timing of that next large shipment is unknown, he said.

“When we do have enough vaccine on hand, we hope to soon be able to give them out to people in the area who are 65 and older,” Hill said.

The Edgecombe County Health Department has not released much information about the vaccination efforts in that county. However, the department website does note, “We are currently in Phase 1B. To check your eligibility and schedule an appointment, please call 252-641-7511.”

Police find car linked to fatal hit-and-run

Police have located the suspect car and also have a person of interest in the case of the recent hit-and-run on Hunter Hill Road that claimed the life of a woman, a City of Rocky Mount spokesman said.

The car, which is a black Toyota Camry, was found on Monday, the spokesman said.

Officers on Saturday evening found that Julia Uduma, 46, was struck by a vehicle in the 2200 block of Hunter Hill, which is southeast of the intersection with North Winstead Boulevard and Thomas A. Betts Parkway. The city spokesman has said that Uduma was pronounced dead.

Anyone with additional information about this case is asked to phone the police traffic enforcement crash reconstruction unit at 252-972-1431, the police dispatch at 252-972-1411 or Twin County Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111.

Tips also can be texted to police at 274637 by beginning messages with RMPOL and typing up to 155 characters about the information.

Police respond to increased reports of shots being fired

The Rocky Mount Police Department’s crime report for December provides a mix of good and bad news.

The bad news is that officers responded to 116 calls about shots fired or heard.

The officers as a result found 129 shell casings, seized 32 firearms and made 13 arrests on weapons violations-related charges.

As of the end of December, officers had seized 439 firearms during all of 2020.

The 439 firearms seized is roughly 100 more firearms seized than for all of 2019, interim police Chief Charles Williams told the City Council and the viewing audience during a work session on Monday.

Williams said that while the police department has seen an increase in instances of aggravated assaults, the officers “are stepping up their game” and seized more firearms in 2020 than in the past.

The crime report shows that in December there was a murder, an instance of a rape, 18 instances of aggravated assaults, four instances of robberies of businesses and three instances of robberies of people.

The crime report also shows that in December there were 84 instances of larcenies, 13 instances of residential break-ins, seven instances of thefts of motor vehicles, six instances of commercial break-ins, four instances of non-residential break-ins and two instances of arson.

The total number of crimes in December was 143, which Williams noted was 27 less than in December 2019.

As of the end of December, the total number of crimes for all of 2020 was 2,172, which Williams noted was 164 more than the total number of crimes in all of 2019.

Williams said the cause of the increase in the total number of crimes was due to more instances of aggravated assaults.

Williams also provided specifics about the numbers of attacks in December in terms of the murder, aggravated assaults and shootings into occupied buildings or vehicles.

There were 19 victims, 14 of whom were injured.

Williams said five of those cases of such attacks were cleared as a result of arrests, while 11 of those cases remain under investigation and one case is inactive.

Of the instances of aggravated assaults in December, six were cleared as a result of arrests and there were four arrests for such offenses.

Williams said that one positive in the category of aggravated assaults in December was that there was only one case having multiple victims. He said another positive was that eight of the instances of aggravated assaults did not involve a firearm.

The crime report for December shows the number of property crimes having been cleared by 21 arrests.

Of the 21 arrests, 10 were for shoplifting.

Four were for all other types of larcenies, two were for robberies of businesses, two were for robberies of people, two were for stealing vehicles and one was for a break-in of a residence.

Committee seeks input on new school name

The new elementary school that will be built in northern Nash County soon will have a new name.

The Ad-hoc New Construction Committee for Nash County Public Schools met last week to discuss plans for choosing the new name, mascot and colors for the school.

Shannon Davis, director of the maintenance and facilities department for the school district, brought the issue of the new school naming before the committee.

“In accordance to Policy 9300, the superintendent will involve the staff and students assigned to the facility and the students’ parents in the process of identifying possible names for a new school facility or facility being renamed. The superintendent shall submit a recommended name or limited list of recommended names to the board for approval,” Miller said.

The input is being sought through a survey that is being sent to members of the Red Oak Elementary, Swift Creek Elementary and Cedar Grove Elementary school communities. Those three schools will close once the new school is constructed and students from those schools attend the new consolidated school.

At the Jan. 7 school board meeting, the Nash County Board of Education approved the recommendations for the survey, which is being conducted this week. School staff and student families are being asked for input into the choice of a school name, mascot and school colors for the new elementary school that will be located on the campus of the current Red Oak Elementary School.

The ad-hoc committee originally planned to suggest a choice of Red Oak Elementary School or Northern Nash Elementary School as choices on the survey while leaving room for participants to suggest their own names. But school board Chairman Franklin Lamm and board member Doneva Chavis suggested the addition of another name: Red Cedar Creek Elementary School.

“That name incorporates part of the name of each school,” Lamm said at the committee meeting.

School board member Chris Bissette said he would like to go ahead and get input on a school mascot and colors.

“The reason is that we could go ahead and incorporate the colors and mascot into the construction plans for the school,” Bissette said.

Bissette suggested that a tiger cub be considered as a mascot since a tiger is the mascot of Red Oak Middle School, the school that students from the elementary school will attend after their days at the elementary school. Red Oak Middle School is within sight of the campus where the elementary school will be constructed.

Chavis agreed.

“We already have a tiger on that water tower so it would be logical,” Chavis said. “But I do want the community to be able to submit other ideas.”

After the survey is completed, the Ad-hoc New Construction Committee will meet again, Miller said.

The school district announced Wednesday that the next meeting of the committee will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 19. The committee plans to review the survey input and select the new school name, mascot and colors at that meeting.

The committee also will look at selecting new school colors at the meeting. The choice of school colors is another question on the survey being conducted.

Red Oak Elementary and Cedar Grove currently have red and black as their school colors and Swift Creek has green and yellow, Miller said.

“The school colors will mainly impact the design of the gym and the mascot,” Miller said. “The school itself will have quite a few colors throughout the building. It won’t have just the school colors.”

The committee decided to leave the choice of colors open to people responding to the survey.

The recommendation of the committee regarding the name, mascot and colors will be brought before the school board at its next meeting. The decision will need to be approved by the full board.

“Our hopes are to bring that school name, mascot and colors to the full board on Feb. 1 to be approved,” Nash County Superintendent Steve Ellis said.