Police chief looks back on 2013

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By Shaina Stockton, Staff

The number of both vehicle stops and traffic tickets in Galax were higher in 2013 than the previous year, but there was a decrease in traffic-related injuries and property damage.
Police Chief Rick Clark gives partial credit for this shift to the city reducing speed limits on some streets, he said in his annual report to Galax City Council.

“We believe that high visibility aggressive traffic enforcement directly affects the safety of motorists and pedestrians who use our streets daily,” Clark told council Feb. 10.
With the department’s recommendation, city council lowered speed limits on some streets, a move that was unpopular with many citizens.
But, Clark said the lower limits were one factor that reduced injuries and damage.
Last year, according to the collected data, the department conducted 4,890 traffic stops and issued 2,630 traffic summons.
Officers investigated 130 property damage accidents, and 39 accidents with injury.
Clark compared this data to 2012, noting that although traffic stops had increased by 8 percent and traffic summons increased by 3.4 percent, there was a 30 percent decrease in property damage and a 26 percent decrease in personal injuries as a result of a vehicle accident.
“Obviously, there are factors beyond our control that result in accidents, but we believe our efforts are moving in the right direction,” he said.
Clark gives a summarized annual report to council each year.
“It is the purpose of this report to summarize the daily law enforcement activities including arrests, traffic enforcement, accident information, and crime rate. I will also highlight the exceptional service of our members,” Clark said in a letter to City Manager Keith Barker.
This year, Clark had a number of changes to report. He noted that the department had eliminated one sworn officer position and replaced it with two part-time positions, which saved money to the city’s taxpayers and increased the city’s level of mandated service.
The department also became one of the first localities in the state to assign an elementary school resource officer. This decision was made shortly following the events of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Ohio in December 2012.
“I believe this report will illustrate the professionalism, dedication and compassion exhibited by each member of the department,” Clark told Barker.

According to the department’s information database, Galax police handled approximately 1,360 crimes in 2013 — a 9 percent reduction from the 1,495 recorded in 2012.
Records also indicate a 31 percent reduction in crimes against a person, such as rape, sodomy, simple assault and aggravated assault; and a 10 percent decrease in property crimes, such as burglary and larceny.
Some crimes are on the rise, such as a 24 percent drug arrest increase. “We continue to believe the use of and sale of methamphetamine to be a major issue,” Clark said.
He noted that the increase only included arrests made by the Galax Police Department itself, and did not include data explaining the further efforts of the Twin County Drug Task Force that the city is part of.
In 2012, the department began making changes to become more transparent to the public, and encourages a community style of policing.
Clark said the department is in the third year of a grant-funded project to develop and implement a model of intelligence-led policing, as opposed to a reactive model. “The project involves constantly examining the data collected and making resource allocations based on the available data. It also involves high visibility aggressive uniform police patrol in targeted areas that are experiencing recurring problems.”

Clark told council that the Galax Police Department houses the Public Safety Answering Point for the local E-911 system that takes calls for Carroll County, Grayson County, Galax, Independence, Fries and Hillsville. In 2013, the communications center had 1,193 fire department calls, 10,195 EMS calls, 13,452 transferred police calls and 25,172 Galax police calls, totaling approximately 50,012.
This total, Clark noted, did not include general calls for information or directions.  
“The communications function of the police department is one of the more important services provided to our citizens. Our dispatchers on a daily basis take responsibility for sending aid to people in need often in life threatening situations,” said Clark.
He gave an example of one of the many wrecks that were called in from I-77 last year, including a 90-car pileup that resulted in fatalities and dozens of injuries.
“The caller told the dispatcher, ‘I’ve been in an accident, and I think my wife is dead.’ then they heard a crash, and the line went dead,” he told council. “They deal with these life and death situations every day. It’s a thankless job... they do exemplary work, and we do not thank them enough.”

In 2012, the department notified the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission (VLEPSC) that it was ready to schedule its third on-site assessment. The department later received a visit from three members of accredited Virginia police agencies in April 2013.
“The department provided four years of proofs of our compliance with 190 accreditation standards that cover administration, operations and training. The department provided written documentation of compliance, which totaled over 6,000 pages,” Clark told council.
Each member of the department, he added, is involved in the process and can be called on at any time for questions concerning written policy and procedure.
The VLEPSC voted unanimously to grant accredited status to the department, making it one of 31 municipal police agencies in the state accredited by the commission. The accreditation team consists of Capt. James Cox, Detective Aaron Criner, administrative assistant Regina Barr and records clerk John Dickson.

Officer Achievement
The Galax PD is one of 12 agencies in the state that is both accredited and a certified crime prevention community, according to Clark. “The commitment to both programs takes effort and attention to detail from members of the department staff,” he told council.
Each member of the department delivers a number of services to the community, including arrests, traffic enforcement, warrant service, civil service witness subpoena, DUI arrests, and calls for service.
At this time, more than half of the department staff has an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. He noted that officers Terry Woods and Anne Toney are  graduate students.
Police training in Virginia is conducted by officers who are recognized by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services as instructors. The department has 11 certified instructors with three or more officers scheduled to begin the training this year. Training in police, jail and dispatch is provided at the New River Criminal Justice Training Center.
The department has three members who are graduates of the Virginia Academy of Forensic Science.
A member of the department is vice-chair of the Department Criminal Justice Services Board and chairs the Committee on Training.
As of this year, Capt. James Cox is also receiving specialized training at the FBI National Academy — a first for the department.

Individual Recognitions
Clark called up several members of the department and spoke of a few who were absent for health reasons or family emergencies:
• Officer Drew Burnett led the department statistically in four of the six categories of service, including arrests, traffic enforcement, DUI arrests and warrants served. He led the department in drug and felony arrests in 2013. He is scheduled for training to become a certified criminal justice instructor.
• Officer Darren Alley led the department in calls for service with 1,973, and was second in arrests and traffic enforcement. He is certified as a Crime Prevention Specialist. “He completes any assigned task to the best of his ability,” Clark said.
• Officer Terry Woods was third in the department in arrests, traffic enforcement, warrants served and calls for service. In the past year, he has completed Police Training Officer (PTO) instruction at the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville, Ky. “He was chosen because of his commitment to excellence and work ethic,” said Clark. Woods is currently mentoring newcomer Officer Tyler Houk during his fourteen weeks of field training.
• Officer Silverio Gonzales has completed two years of service as an officer with the department. He was ranked sixth in performance, but Clark noted that he brings a level of commitment to his job that goes beyond his written duties. In the past year, he contributed to the Bottom Area Revitalization Project, assisted the Department of Social Services, and lent his help to surrounding police agencies. “His culture and upbringing has helped us get an insight into the [Hispanic] community that we never had before,” Clark said.
• Sgt. Mark Burnett ranked fourth statistically in the department, and splits his time successfully between the police department and the Galax Volunteer Fire Department. “Burnett is a true example of a leader who sets the standard and serves as an example for his shift.”
• Sgt. Danita Jackson successfully leads a shift consisting of officers Chris Hines, Darren Alley and Adam Newman.
• Sgt. Shawny Jones is charged with overseeing the department’s field training efforts. His shift includes officers Terry Woods, Trevor Jefferson and Anne Toney.
• Sgt. Jody Poole leads the department’s Emergency Response Team in addition to leading a shift including officers Drew Burnett, Silverio Gonzales and Jason Hawks.
• Officer Kevin Hall became a crime prevention officer in 2013, and is working to become a certified crime prevention specialist. He coordinates the efforts of the Galax Community Emergency Response Team, “a group of civilian volunteers who supplement first responders in the city of Galax,” said Clark He is responsible for the Certified Crime Prevention Community Program.
• Detective Robbie Isom is a member of the Twin County Drug Task Force, along with Detective J.B. Greer. Last year, they were responsible for seizing three pounds of methamphetamine. “Three pounds may not sound like much, but this drug is typically sold by the ounce,” Clark explained.
• Detective Aaron Criner assisted with the grant-funded intelligence-led policing project, and recently was put in charge of storing evidence for the department.
• Officer Vickie Taylor and Officer Fred Bobbitt were recognized for their work as resource officers for Galax City Schools. Taylor is stationed at both the middle and high schools, while Bobbitt patrols the elementary school.
• Officer Jacob Vaughan is the department’s canine officer, and Clark confirmed that Vaughan takes care of his dog, Dundja, around the clock. “Dundja isn’t a piece of equipment that he puts away at the end of the day — this is a true commitment on his part,” Clark said. Last year, Vaughan led Dundja on 32 vehicle searches, which resulted in the discovery of methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine on 19 occasions. He also completed five suspect tracks and 14 building searches.
• Officers Mike Hash and Ron Houk are assigned to court security duties, and are responsible for long hours when court days are scheduled.
In closing, Clark thanked council members for their continued support. “I’ve always felt like you’ve given me your best efforts,” he told them.
Council members thanked the police department, and they were given a round of applause from council and others who were in attendance that evening.