Beaufort County Sheriff announces overhaul of department

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tcc012915p1aBeaufort Observer Editorial Team

WASHINGTON, N.C. — Beaufort County Sheriff Ernie Coleman announced Wednesday a reorganization of the Sheriff’s Office.

Coleman succeeded former longtime sheriff Alan Jordan who did not seek re-election in the 2014 election. Coleman ran in the primary as a Republican and was opposed in the runoff by Jordan’s Chief Deputy Harry Meredith. In the Democrat primary runoff Jordan crony Russell Davenport was defeated by Al J. Whitney, who went on to lose to Coleman in the General Election.

One of the first moves Coleman made when he assumed office in December was to release Chief Deputy Kit Campbell and Kenny Watson. Thus, Davenport is the only hold-over from the top ranks of the Jordan regime, except Charlie Rose, who now becomes Chief Deputy, but was not viewed as a Jordan crony as much as some others.


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Coleman’s “second phase” of reorganization was to streamline the organizational structure with the intent, as he campaigned on, “putting more Deputies on the road,” or available to answer calls rather than holding down desk jobs.

To accomplish that Coleman announced the creation of five divisions in the departments: Patrol, Criminal Investigations, and Narcotics as well as Detention and Administrative services. Each division will be headed by a lieutenant, whereas they were previously headed by a captain. The will be: Jeremy Hewitt, Patrol; Wesley Waters, Investigations and Russell Davenport, Narcotics.

These commanders will report directly to the new Chief Deputy Charlie Rose who was elevated from major while serving as Interim Chief since Campbell left. Rose will be the second in command and responsible for the day to day operations of the department.

In addition to the lieutenants reporting in direct line to the Chief Deputy, Sergeant Kelly Cox will report to Rose while heading Crime Stoppers, Crime Prevention, Community Watch and training programs.

The Detention Center (jail) is being reorganized also. That staff will be headed by Chief Detention Officer Catrina Ross, with Assistant Chief Scott Thompson reporting to Ross. he direct line on command runs to the Chief Deputy for the Detention Center.

Coleman explained that the reorganization will eventually save the taxpayers money, as well as some of the other practices he envisions changing, such as making more efficient use of the motor vehicle fleet. But the streamlining is being done while holding harmless each employee’s salary, regardless of rank classification. No one takes a pay cut. The efficiencies will be achieved over time as positions are filled.

Coleman stressed in a brief interview that his focus is deploying resources to more directly impact field activities, including more efficient investigations. That is one area Jordan and Meredith were severely criticized for in recent years. Jordan oversaw the practice of the Sheriff’s Office sending letters to crime victims telling them that he did not have the resources to investigate their case.

But ironically, it is the Narcotics Division that has received the most criticism during the Jordan reign and that is where Coleman is apparently leaving the carryovers.

BeufortObserver.net collects complaints from readers and the Narcotics Division (including the SWAT) has consistently garnered the bulk of those complaints. Most notable among there were the death of Keith Small that resulted from a drug bust; the infamous Tayloe Pharmacy case, which ended in nearly all of the charges being dismissed; and, of course the Twelfth Street Siege debacle. In that instance, the SWAT team assaulted Carter Leary, who was disarming his nephew who had been put under siege by the Sheriff’s Office and Washington Police Department. Leary was charged by the SWAT squad after an illegal search (according to his attorney) of his home but that case was thrown out of court because of improper conduct of the deputies involved in the trial.

The Narcotics Division has been most severely criticized by some, including the Beaufort Observer, for being ineffective in stopping the influx of illegal substances into the county. Most—in fact nearly all—of their arrests that have been publicly announced are individual street-level pushers or users. The only major dealer we are aware of that has been convicted in recent years was an Aurora supplier who was caught by out of state officers. To our knowledge, “Mr. Big” as Commissioner Hood Richardson refers to it, has never been charged. And there is little evidence that organized crime units/gangs have been disrupted to any material extent. But Coleman is retaining that part of the operation pretty much intact.

Commentary

We commend Sheriff Coleman. His objective of getting more resources into the field is most commendable. His organizational structure is lean and makes sense. His care to protect employees who have been doing a good job is most commendable. Now, if he will produce more return on investment in the Narcotics Division we will think he has done what needed to be done at this point.

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