A small North Carolina town voted Tuesday to get rid of its police department in favor of what officials say will be a cost-saving contract with the local sheriff’s office.
The Mocksville Town Board voted unanimously during a public meeting Tuesday night to disband the police and contract with the Davie County Sheriff’s Office for future law enforcement services — a move officials said will save the town $1.3 million over the next three years. The contact is set to begin July 1.
But long-standing tension between the police department and town officials have some questioning the motive.
“It was more of a political issue before it ever became a budgetary issue,” Brandon McGaha, a representative with the state Police Benevolent Association, said after the vote, WGHP reported. “They are using the budgetary issue to get rid of the police department for other reasons that started long before the budget was on the table.”
The decision also comes as activists across the U.S. have called for the reallocation of police resources after several killings of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement officers — including 42-year-old Andrew Brown Jr., who was shot and killed by deputies with the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office in Eastern North Carolina on April 21.
But Ken Gamble, Mocksville’s town manager, told McClatchy News that’s not what this is.
“The town is not divesting funds from the police and reallocating them to social services, youth services, housing, education or healthcare,” he said in an email Wednesday. “The town did this to be responsible stewards of tax dollars.”
Gamble said officials looked closely at the savings they’d have by contracting with the sheriff’s department because of a $600,000 shortfall in the budget and a dwindling balance in the town’s saving account. He added that the contract will actually increase street patrols and give the town access to more officers if there is a spike in crime.
“It was a very difficult decision and the Town publicly acknowledged at the May 4th Board meeting that the move would result in staff losing their livelihoods,” he said.
The new deal
Mocksville is a town of roughly 5,000 people about an hour northeast of Charlotte. The mayor told news outlets Tuesday that about 20 people will lose their jobs when the town stops funding the police department on June 30.
“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be here, but this is where we are,” Mayor Will Marklin said Tuesday, WXII reported. “And again, in a business sense, this is what’s best for the town. This is what’s best for the taxpayers.”
A representative from the Mocksville Police Department told McClatchy News they couldn’t comment on the board’s decision.
Under the new contract, the town agreed to pay the sheriff’s office a $1.35 million annual fee for their services and will transfer all police vehicles and equipment over to them. Officials said an average of 3.5 deputies will be on patrol “around the clock,” compared to the two officers that Mocksville Police currently provides.
“The net result is that the town will have more law enforcement officers on patroon patrol than the MPD now provides for less money,” the town said in an April 29 news release.
The Mocksville Police Department has been led by an “interim executive officer” since mid-March — the third in a string of temporary leaders since former Police Chief Pat Reagan left in November.
The town first appointed Tim Parks to lead the department and help with the selection process for a new chief. Parks was the former chief of police in Yadkinville and came out of retirement for the job. But his time on the job was short-lived, as he stepped down Feb. 26, citing “family obligations,” according to a town news release.
Parks was briefly replaced by Interim Police Chief Bobby West, who stepped down in March after just a few days on the job, the Davie County Enterprise Record reported. Around the same time, the highest ranking officer in the department announced her resignation, citing “countless acts of sexual harassment and gender discrimination,” WXII reported.
Robert D. Bennett followed, starting his term as the interim executive officer on March 11, according to a town news release. He left the position when news of the vote to dismantle the department surfaced near the end of April, and Captain B.J. Nichols has been the ranking officer ever since.
The department has been entangled in various controversies since at least 2016, when a jury awarded three former Mocksville police offers more than $4 million in damages after they sued the department for wrongful termination following allegations of corruption, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.
A few years later, the town was in shambles over the disappearance of a beloved police cat known as Sgt. Butters.
The cat had a heavy social media presence before his pages were taken down and he was re-homed seemingly overnight in late 2019, sparking accusations of meddling by town leaders who reportedly thought the social media pages were “unprofessional.”
A police records specialist in Mocksville was placed on administrative leave last summer after she reportedly shared a social media post showing a drawn-version of George Floyd holding a gun and wrapping his arm around the neck of a pregnant woman, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Floyd, 46, died May 25 after now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee into his neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin was convicted in April on charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
“These social media exchanges by the employee do not reflect the beliefs of the Mocksville Police Department or the Town of Mocksville,” the department said in a statement at the time, according to the Journal. “We cannot and will not tolerate any language, behavior or associations that would allow for a disruption in our agency’s moral code.”