Chief, sheriff: body cameras are game changer

Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance and Greenville Chief Mark Holtzman discuss public safety in Pitt County

By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Body cameras for law enforcement agencies increase accountability and help decrease residents’ complaints, leaders of the Greenville Police Department and Pitt County Sheriff’s Office said on Tuesday.

Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance and Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman discussed public safety issues during a June Power Luncheon hosted by the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce.

More than 100 people attended the luncheon at the Hilton Greenville.

“The county is still standing and our deputies are still rolling so we must be doing something right,” Dance said to the crowd.

During her presentation, Dance emphasized the importance of body cameras and said she and county commissioners were working to see that the sheriff’s office gets them.

“It reduces complaints and we get them very often,” Dance said. “Right now, there’s not a way to substantiate whether (something) happened or it didn’t happen. With those body cams, we believe it will reduce complaints.

“It will improve our evidence collection and better courtroom testimony and increase our accountability and transparency for the office,” she said.

Holtzman said that for the Greenville Police Department, body cameras have made a difference in crime reduction while also holding officers accountable for their actions.

The department had nearly 97,000 interactions with residents last year according to Holtzman. Complaints resulted from 0.04 percent of those encounters.

Holtzman added that complaints dropped 27 percent from the previous year.

“That really is why you need to invest in (body cams),” Holtzman said. “We’ve seen good results with it. All the numbers move in the right direction. Your assaults on officers go down and your complaints go down. I think our professionalism as an agency goes up.”

Dance and Holtzman also discussed community engagement efforts and the importance of law enforcement and residents working together to fight crime.

“We have to have our community who are providing us the information, providing us with what they’re seeing out there themselves to be a part of keeping crime down in our community,” Dance said.

Holtzman promoted the social media application NextDoor.

“It’s a modern way to have a neighborhood watch program just by using the Nextdoor app,” Holtzman said. “That’s our real push this year and that’s how we can think we can help bridge this gap with technology between the police department and the community.”

Holtzman also mentioned that the City of Greenville in a partnership with the Greenville Police Department and the Greenville Utilities Commission is installing LED lighting across the city to reduce crime. So far, 7,000 LED lights have been installed citywide and Holtzman said the goal of the project is to cover the entire city with lights.

Adaptive lighting and cameras also have been installed downtown to help deter crime.

Other items discussed were the Sheriff’s Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (SHARP) and Shotspotter.

SHARP offers a structured environment similar to that of a military school while also offering counseling, spiritual support, life skills, educational and vocational opportunities to detention center inmates to prepare them for a straight, sober life after they leave jail.

ShotSpotter detects shots fired, pinpoints their location and alerts law enforcement within seconds, allowing officers to quickly get to the scene, gather evidence and possibly make an arrest.

Greenville police received more than 3,200 shots-fired calls from 2012-17. It averages to about 544 calls annually, but the number grew to 625 in 2017.

Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance (pictured here) and Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman were the guest speakers at the June 18 Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce Power Luncheon.