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News Community Academy looks at ‘backbone’ of MCSO

MCSO Deputy Jonathan Phillips and Citizens Academy student Tom Han demonstrate the steps taken in a D.W.I. traffic stop.Patrol unit demonstrates procedure for DWI arrest.

The patrol division of the Sheriff's Office is comprised of 24 officers who are on call for citizens of Macon County 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even when they are not actively on duty patrolling all the roads in the county, each officer is afforded a take home vehicle that allows officers to be reached around the clock if needed. Under Lieutenant Ken Lane, the patrol unit works continuously to patrol the streets of Macon County to keep the community safe. The patrol unit is separated into five divisions of the county and officers are assigned to a different division each shift.

Patrol Sergeant Derek Jones led the patrol unit discussion last Thursday night at the dedepartment’s Citizens Academy. Jones began his law enforcement career in 2004 in Highlands before transferring to the Macon County Detention Center in 2005. From there, he began working patrol and in 2008, became a corporal field training officer. Jones received his associates degree from Southwestern Community college and his B.A. in Criminal Justice from Western Carolina University.

Jones began his introduction of the MCSO patrol unit by emphasizing the importance of the patrol unit taking a proactive approach to crime prevention by reaching out to the community. "I cannot stress how important it is to work together to fight crime," said Jones. "We need the community's help in crime prevention just as much as they need us."

Patrol duties span over a wide range of activities including civil cases, property crimes, assaults, juvenile crimes, traffic enforcement, and mental illness cases, which Jones said demands the attention of MCSO for 10 to 15 hours each week.

In 2012, the patrol unit responded to 13,337 calls that came through dispatch, but after factoring in cases that walk in the front door of the Sheriff's Office and incidents that occur while officers are out on duty, the patrol unit responded to more than 40,000 calls. "We respond to every call we get," said Jones. "Regardless of what the call is, if someone calls 911 and it comes to dispatch, we send an officer out to investigate."

According to Jones, the majority of the calls the patrol unit responds to outside of traffic incidents involve property crimes, which Jones says are on the rise. Property crimes include breaking and entering, larceny and vandalism related incidents. In 2012, 23 percent or 3,069 of the 13,337 calls that came through dispatch were property crimes.

The patrol unit is complete with 25 actively used patrol vehicles. The department also employs the use of Dodge Chargers, a Ford Crown Victoria, a Chevy Tahoe, a Ford Explorer, a Ford F150 and a Ford Expedition. The unit has a 16-foot Jon Boat and a Polaris Gator for cases that require the unit to leave the roadways.

Jones referred to the patrol unit as the "backbone" of any sheriff's department because all investigations and cases originate with the unit. Without the patrol division, the other divisions could not do their jobs.

Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Phillips, who serves as Macon County's liaison to the Governor's Highway Patrol Safety Program, said that some of the trickiest traffic crimes to convict are cases involving texting and driving. While the law is commonly referred to as texting and driving, it actually encompasses all facets of operating a phone while driving, ranging from taking pictures to surfing the internet. Phillips said that because the laws against using a cell phone and driving are so new, he has to build a solid case to present at trial. "Because the laws are so new, right now the biggest challenge is educating lawyers and judges on everything the law actually says," said Jones.

To prove that a driver was distracted because of a cell phone, Jones said he follows the vehicle for a way and even utilizes his vehicle's dashboard camera to help collect sufficient evidence.

The unit relies on different policing techniques to remain an effective force of crime prevention. According to Jones, the unit uses preventive patrol, which is just being seen in the community; selective enforcement, which means policing targeted known crime areas; and community policing, which is most effectively done by having officers take vehicles home into their communities.

Jones said that the patrol units policing techniques are proven to be efficient based on crime reduction in Macon County. In 2009, the patrol unit issued 1,355 citations, 1,482 warnings, made 128 Driving While Intoxicated (D.W.I) arrests and manned 170 traffic checkpoints. In 2012, the patrol unit only issued 915 citations, 333 warnings, 53 D.W.I.s and set up 72 checkpoints.

With the considerably high number of D.W.I.s given in Macon County annually, and the devastating impact the crime has on victims, Thursday's Citizens Academy participants got a first hand look at the protocol and procedures involved in D.W.I. cases.

Patrol Sergeant Derek Jones led the discussion on the patrol unit.Officers Lane and Phillips explained that D.W.I. stops are about collecting as much evidence as possible and remaining calm in order to keep the roads safe. Phillips used Citizens Academy student Tom Hahn to demonstrate the steps involved in a D.W.I. situation.

After asking Hahn to exit his vehicle, Phillips asked him a series of questions. Through Hahn's dramatized responses, it became apparent that he had been drinking. Phillips gave him a breathalyzer and a series of state-mandated tasks such as walking in a line, following a finger, and lifting one foot while balancing.

Phillips said that whenever possible, those tasks are done in front of the patrol car so it can be filmed for evidence in case of a trial. The legal drinking limit in North Carolina to still operate a vehicle is .08. Those to have been found to consume more than that are arrested and taken to the Macon County Detention Center.

Once at the Detention Center, Phillips explained that the suspect is given an intoxilyzer test to get an alcohol reading that can be used in court. If a suspect refuses to submit to the test, they automatically lose their license from the Department of Motor Vehicles for one year and the officers reserve the right to request a blood sample.

A warrant for blood is then obtained through the magistrate's office and the blood is drawn by medical personnel and sent to the state lab for testing. According to Lane, blood samples are a direct source of alcohol content and typically return a higher alcohol content than the intoxilyzer.

Penalties for D.W.I.s vary based on severity of the case, but North Carolina has recently taken steps to strengthen D.W.I. laws, especially for repeat offenders.

Next week: SWAT Operations.


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