Police staff will expand under Siler City’s proposed town budget

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SILER CITY — Siler City Police Department’s officer staff stands to grow by more than 25% under the town’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021-22, with plans to nearly double in the next three years, according to Chief Mike Wagner.

The department is currently allocated 21 officers, as previously reported by the News + Record, but is operating below capacity now.

“There are two spots open,” Wagner told the News + Record, “and we now have a supervisor’s position open also that we’re looking to fill.”

If the town’s board of commissioners votes to adopt the proposed budget, Wagner will get another three officers plus an evidence technician for fiscal year 2021-22.

“I’m excited. I’m elated. It’s been a long road,” he said. “These officers and staff are working hard every day under very unusual, extreme circumstances being short staffed.”

Since arriving in Siler City two years ago to replace Interim Police Chief Jeanne Miller, Wagner has always overseen an understaffed force.

“Those three open positions plus the addition of the three more will balance out our shifts every day,” he said. “They’ll sort of get our shifts up — not quite to where they need to be — but it’s definitely a big stride toward increasing our officer safety and increasing a level of performance to our community.”

A dedicated evidence technician will improve overall workflow and enhance the department’s ability to process crime scenes.

“We have an evidence room that needs full-time attention,” Wagner said, “We’ve gotten to a level to where we’re handling enough evidence that storage has become a problem.”

The technician’s job responsibilities will include organization and management of the evidence room, and collection and processing of evidence at crime scenes. As of now, a major and a detective have been handling those duties part-time on top of their full-time assignments.

“And that’s asking a lot of these folks,” Wagner said. “We want to ensure that evidence room is first-rate, and we’re at an age in policing where we collect so much evidence, and there’s constant transformation of taking stuff to court and getting stuff sent to the lab for destruction, that we can no longer address those needs part time. That’s what it comes down to.”

Enhancing its evidence collection procedures and management will also improve the department’s chances of qualifying for state accreditation — an honor SCPD has never achieved, which will make it more attractive to prospective employees and a stronger candidate for funding opportunities.

“When we get into becoming accredited,” Wagner said, “that evidence room is a top priority and currently I don’t think it would meet the standards.”

Four new employees would mark a substantial thrust forward in Wagner’s longterm plan to expand his department. In the last year, Siler City has experienced higher crime rates — both violence- and property-related — than state and national averages. Between Nov. 2019 and Oct. 2020, the town had 67 violent crimes, including homicide, rape, sexual assault and shootings, Wagner said. To combat the worrisome trend, he hopes the board will approve four new positions in each of the next three years, bringing the department close to 40 total officers.

“I think that ultimately, as the board has agreed,” Wagner said, “we understand that we are not through growing yet.”

But Wagner will be flexible, he says. The plan is fluid, and will adjust commensurate with the town’s evolving conditions.

“Those are good numbers to shoot for, but we want to be good stewards of citizen money, and we also want to really have a strategic plan. So, the town manager and I will really sit down and look and say, ‘OK, do we need four more this year? Are we at a good stabilization point? Do we need more? Might we need less?’ ... I don’t believe in just throwing police officers at problems. We have to have a strategy.”

The Siler City board of commissioners will host a public hearing for the town’s proposed budget on June 21 after which they will vote to adopt the budget or send it back to staff for revisions. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.


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