During its Sept. 8 meeting, the Norlina Town Board approved a plan which is being implemented now to strengthen the town’s police department through efficiency, increased salaries, and technology.

Norlina’s budget for the current fiscal year allocated a total of $340,186.84 for the police department. The newly approved plan decreases the appropriation to $321,791.25.

Town Public Works Director Blaine Reese said that the plan was developed in part because Norlina competes with area municipalities that offer starting salaries for police officers which range from $38,000 to  $48,000 per year. By contrast, Norlina police officers earned annual salaries ranging from $34,600 to $43,945.

Reese said that it has been difficult for small town Norlina to compete with areas like Henderson, Oxford and Louisburg.

Norlina Police Chief Keishawn Mayes said that especially over the past six to eight years, the Norlina department has faced a high turnover rate due to salary differences with surrounding areas. He noted that purchasing equipment for an officer who later leaves is wasteful. Reese said that it costs between $3,000 and $4,000 to outfit an officer with a uniform and equipment.

He said that to address these problems, he, Town Clerk/Finance Officer Christina Allman and Mayes worked to develop a draft plan during the month of August.

The plan approved by the town board has the following objectives: improve the competitiveness of salary ranges; fully staff the department; reduce compensation time accumulation and reform related policies to prevent future accumulation; maintain a high level of service and commitment to the citizens of Norlina, and find and utilize new ways and technology to improve service and protection while controlling costs.

The plan combines modifying police officer scheduling and utilizing high-tech surveillance equipment in public locations to make the department more efficient to prepare for the future.

In his presentation to the board, Reese describes the plan as “a new way of thinking.”

“Reinventing the wheel while thinking outside the box,” he said. “The old saying is ‘why reinvent the wheel,’ but, yet, we have and continue to do so. Imagine if we were still using the same wheels on cars today just like we found on the Model Ts back in 1913 when Norlina was incorporated. Are we using the same wheel?”

In the process of restructuring the department, the plan would eliminate the need to fill two vacant positions, creating a savings of $59,600 in salaries alone. That savings, along with a decrease in related insurance, gas and other expenses, as well as restructured schedules, allows the police department to increase officer salaries to a range from $43,750 to $54,931.25.

Reese said that no one is being laid off, and the town is gaining an additional full-time officer.

According to the plan, police officer salaries will be increased by 25 percent. Officers will receive a 2.5 percent cost of living increase each year for seven consecutive years. At that time, officers will be considered long-term employees eligible to receive Christmas bonuses beginning with year eight.

In addition to salary increases, the plan allows the Norlina Police Department to purchase surveillance cameras at a cost of $20,000 in order to better protect the town’s citizens. 

Mayes and Reese said that Norlina has worked constantly to upgrade its technology to offer the best protection possible for town residents. Mayes noted that in the past, that has meant following the crowd, implementing a technology already used by police departments in other municipalities.

He said that the surveillance cameras which Norlina will purchase will place Norlina in the same league as police departments in the nation’s largest cities in terms of technology.

“We can do what big police departments do, like Chicago,” Mayes said. “Before, we were playing catch-up and trying to do what other police departments were doing. Now, we will take the reins, take the lead.”

He said that the surveillance cameras offer facial, vehicle and license plate recognition with the capability to add Silver Alert information to enable the camera to create a live feed if a missing person comes within its range. 

Norlina’s Surveillance and Protection Policy emphasizes that cameras will not be placed in locations that violate the reasonable expectation of privacy as defined by law. In addition, the policy states that monitoring for security purposes will be conducted in a manner consistent with all existing town policies.

The town prohibits video monitoring based solely on specific characteristics and classifications such as race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, veteran’s status, sexual orientation or disability. In addition, signage will be placed in appropriate internal areas to indicate the use of video surveillance.

Mayes said that the people of Norlina already know and feel comfortable with the town’s police officers and anticipates that having the cameras in place will be an effective tool in keeping local people safe.

“People may miss things, but the camera doesn’t,” he said.

Reese said that the modified schedules, salary increases and surveillance cameras will mean a more efficient police department which is better able to protect local residents.

“We are establishing a seasoned department with employees that will stay,” he said. “This is what is the best thing to do for the community.

Reese shares Mayes’ excitement about the capabilities of the surveillance system.

“This is the front edge of technology,” Reese said. “We don’t have a high crime rate. We want to keep it that way while maintaining the same level of service.”