SILER CITY — The town’s police department held a ceremony last Friday to officially recognize two new sergeants. The internal promotions come as part of a department-wide effort to expand and …
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SILER CITY — The town’s police department held a ceremony last Friday to officially recognize two new sergeants. The internal promotions come as part of a department-wide effort to expand and improve the town’s police force, which has struggled for years with staffing shortages and limited training.
Officers Justin Matthews and Marcus Klumb had each been serving as interim sergeants for several months, but pandemic restrictions prevented their full promotions. With their addition to the department’s supervising staff, SCPD now has four active sergeants overseeing patrol officers. The department has 17 policemen, four short of the 21 Chief Mike Wagner is authorized to employ.
“So, I’m still short,” Wagner told the News + Record, “but this is progress.”
Their new responsibility is weighty, Matthews and Crumb said, but both are proud to assume leadership roles in a department that is working hard to better serve its community.
“This agency is changing on a daily basis,” Matthews said, “and we’re getting officers in here that are proactive.”
Understaffing has burdened the scant police force and caused “frustration among officers not being able to feel like they’re being able to provide 100% of the services that they take an oath to do,” Matthews said.
“But now we’re in that transition where we’re starting to do more and more and more,” he added.
Matthews, who started his career in 2008 with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, joined Siler City’s police department as a patrol officer in 2017. In his 13 years of law enforcement, Matthews has worked in “patrol, drug interdictions, community policing, as a school resource officer and a field training officer,” he said.
Klumb, a Siler City native, has been a policeman for six years. After two years with the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office, he joined Siler City’s department as a patrol officer and field training officer.
“We’re going through a growth phase at the police department,” Klumb said, “and Chief Wagner is implementing a lot of training stuff that we have not been able to get in the past that we needed to get. He’s implementing it as fast as we can get it done.”
Training includes internal department instruction and enrollment opportunities at Central Carolina Community College and other local schools that offer continuing law enforcement education curricula.
“We’re stressed, because like I said, we didn’t really have the training in the past that we should have had,” Klumb said. “So, the people, the community of Siler City, I guess, it’s been hard for them. And it’s hard being a cop now in today’s world with everything going on, and with COVID-19 going on.”
The pandemic has especially taxed the department’s work capacity as it has tried to support Siler City residents enduring economic hardship.
“Just the wear and tear it’s taken on the community,” Matthews said, “people losing jobs, not being able to work full-time, struggling to make ends meet. It’s hard.”
The department has not grown, though, to address new and unusual demand even as crime has intensified in the last year. In every major crime statistic, Siler City is “well elevated above both the state and national level,” Wagner said in the town’s annual budget retreat last month.
Between Nov. 2019 and Oct. 2020, Siler City had 67 violent crimes ranging “from homicide to rape, sexual assault and shootings,” according to Wagner.
“I feel that public safety ... really needs some direct attention for this year,” he said in the budget meeting. “And I think that it’s a sound investment to build on our future and the past.”
New department leaders such as Matthews and Klumb will better equip the department to fulfil its community obligation.
“The sergeant position in the police department is critical, because they really are a connection between the chief’s office policy and practice to our patrol officers and the boots on the ground,” Wagner said. “So, they play an important role in community outreach and engagement. And they play a critical role in the delegation of policy and practice. And also, they play a critical role in coaching and mentoring officers and the future of the agency.”
Still, Wagner needs a larger force to address the town’s entrenched criminal activity and serve as a better resource to its beleaguered residents, he said.
In January, the police department, in cooperation with the town’s human resources department and the board of commissioners, launched an incentive program for officers to recruit new talent. Police staff can earn a $1,000 bonus for every person they recruit to the department.
So far, the program seems to be working.
“We’ve had some staff look for talent outside the agency, through their connections, either personal or professional,” Wagner said, “and they’ve applied and they are now being considered for employment. So that’s a positive thing.”
None have made it through the entire hiring process yet, Wagner said, but he expects to meet his 21-person staff capacity soon. Next, he hopes the board of commissioners will approve a request to expand his force to 24 or 25 officers, at which point he will reevaluate the department’s ability to serve Siler City’s needs.
“Right now, we’re at a disadvantage to really make a true assessment because we’re short staffed,” Wagner said, “and everything is compounded when you’re short staffed ... So, if the board is willing to give me three additional new hires, then once those people are on board, we’ll do a reassessment of resources and need as it’s compared to crime and community crime prevention.”
Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @dldolder.