HAMLET — Hamlet Police brought out the big guns Friday, presenting their wish list for items to be included in next year’s city budget — most of them related to combating gangs.
Using tri-fold poster board, video and a surprise visit from the inventor of a whiz-bang security camera, Chief Scott Waters eclipsed the efforts of four other city department heads, who talked about their needs more informally — with a couple dressed in work clothes and boots.
“These street gangs have made a huge inroad into … the city of Hamlet,” declared Officer Chad Haywood, who presented a PowerPoint video to demonstrate the Police Department’s need for a full-time drugs/gang officer ($48,000 yearly), seven additional M4 assault rifles ($4,550) to complete the replacement of shotguns, and the rental of four Tsunami 360 cameras ($24,000) for use during city events.
“We will save lives that are often wrecked by these criminals and their poison,” Haywood said. “We would take back our streets.”
Last year, Hamlet canceled its July 4 event, citing threats of gang violence. Council member Eddie Martin praised the Tsunami cameras as something cities would look at and wish they had acquired sooner.
Tsunami camera creator Stephen Teachout dropped in unexpectedly to describe his cameras variously as “guardian angels” and “almost like having an officer and strapping him to a post.” Wilmington, Laurinburg and Kinston already use the cameras, he said.
Haywood’s presentation included footage of teens in school-uniform khakis and black shirts jumping and beating another teen, as well as footage of other fights posted to YouTube and confirmed as having occurred in Hamlet. Video from one officer’s body cam showed him running to find out who had shot in his direction from an apartment building.
Eighty-seven members of at least 20 gangs live in Hamlet, Waters and Haywood told City Council members. Crimes police say can be linked to gangs include overdose and shooting deaths, robberies, assaults, weapons charges and drug-related incidents.
“We definitely wanted to get the council’s and the community’s attention,” Haywood said after the presentation.
Haywood came to Hamlet after working in Scotland County, whose law-enforcement agencies already had some of the positions and equipment Waters asked for Friday. He worked with Waters’s top officers to coordinate Friday’s presentation.
Waters also asked for a full-time animal-control officer ($48,000), an assortment of vehicles ($11,660) and upkeep for the police firing range and hut ($5,000).
Animal-control incidents have risen from 287 in 2015 to 460 last year, Waters said, adding that “so far this year, we’re knocking on 70.” Last year, police were forced to wait to remove the body of a man killed by his dogs until a county animal-control officer arrived.
Council members were more sanguine about adding a drugs/gang officer than one for animal control. They also praised the Tsunami system as something that says “gotcha” to a wrong-doer. And they concurred with Waters on plans to name the hut after former Chief John Fallow, killed in 1942 while trying to catch a suspect.
Mayor Bill Bayless told Waters: “That’s a whole lot of money you’re asking for there, so we’ll see what we can do.”
City administration: City Manager Jonathan Blanton asked for a small car for use by City Hall employees working on code enforcement and other official tasks ($21,000), money for demolition of at least three dilapidated structures ($35,000) and new, metal city entrance signs ($15,000).
Council members disagreed on the need for a new car, encouraged Blanton to ask for more demolition dollars and said they preferred more prominent, better built and, thus, more costly entrance signs.
“Aluminum? We’ll have 50 bullet holes in that (proposed metal sign) in the first month,” cracked council member Johnathan Buie.
Parks and Recreation: Blanton also presented the requests for Parks and Recreation, which included repaving the basketball courts at South Hamlet Park ($60,000) and providing a touch-screen computer that would help Hamlet Senior Center provide better data to the state ($4,500).
Council members liked both ideas.
Fire Department: Chief Calvin White asked for a used pickup his firefighters-slash-mechanics could refurbish ($14,000) and four air packs ($28,000), which firefighters strap to their backs when they enter a burning building.
To meet industry standards, the department is phasing in air packs that automatically send an alarm when a firefighter falls, White said. Most of the department’s current equipment does not meet new standards, he said.
Council members were receptive to both of White’s requests, with some council members suggesting White move even faster with replacing the air packs, possibly six at a time.
Public Works: Director Billy Stubbs asked for a new electric chain hoist, which lifts chemicals used in water treatment ($8,428); replacement trucks for the water and limb crews ($59, 668); and the possibility of contracting out maintenance of Mary Love Cemetery. The area is not safe for the one city worker who now does the job, Stubbs said.
Council members differed on the need for new trucks but seemed of one mind on seeking a contractor for the cemetery. That would allow the city to let a position lapse by attrition and shift the cost to the contract.
Blanton told council members that the city also should look at raising its water and sewer rates from $21 to $23, and $16 to $19, respectively. Blanton said that raising rates to nearer the state average might make the city eligible for more grant money.
No decisions were made Friday, although council members arrived at what they called “consensus” on some items — the cameras, most especially.
Council members will meet a further two hours on the budget April 10 — before a regularly scheduled meeting — in order to have a budget prepared by May 1, as dictated by statute.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]