KENANSVILLE — Inside The Country Squire Restaurant, Judge Albert Kirby Jr. faced a group of law enforcement officials and showed his appreciation for their service.
“I thank you for what you do for me as citizen and I thank you for putting your lives on the line every day for us,” Kirby said.
He provided a dinner to show his gratitude during a law enforcement summit. But before it was served, Kirby asked several questions and received interesting responses about public safety. The recently appointed judge described the meeting as listening tool to find out ways to help. Kirby now serves the counties of Sampson, Duplin and Jones as Resident Superior Court Judge for Judicial District 4A after his official appointment at the beginning of this year.
Some of the topics included community involvements, bonds and drugs. District Attorney Ernie Lee joined Kirby along with other officials. Lee said it’s been great to work with sheriffs from Sampson, Duplin, Jones and Onslow counties. During the meeting, Kirby said he would be available any time of the day to issue search warrants.
“If it meant getting some of these people who are not following the law off our streets, and if it makes your job easier, I’ll go to you or meet halfway,” Kirby said. “I’ll do whatever is necessary.”
Lee pointed out that a lot of crime happens after midnight and that he is accessible too.
“The bad guys don’t wait for us,” Lee said. “They pretty much do what they want to and usually when I’m asleep, they’re out doing bad things.”
One of the first concerns brought up by Duplin Sheriff Blake Wallace was getting evidence processed in a timely manner and suspects staying in jails for long periods of time.
“It puts a tremendous burden on the counties because we don’t have the resources to handle it,” Wallace said.
After speaking about jail space matters, Sampson Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said he was concerned about bond amounts being low, especially for breaking and entering crimes.
“If they’ve been in and out three or four times and they’re not going to stop, we need to look higher than $5,000 or $8,000,” Thornton said. “That send a message too.”
Thornton added that substantial bonds should be applied to people involved with illegal drugs too.
“A lot of our drug arrests for the most part have pretty decent bonds,” Thornton said. “But still some leave a lot to be desired.”
Kirby said the bond structure has not changed since 2010 and asked if it’s something local law officials should probably revisit, although it includes many factors such as defense attorneys who thinks bonds are high enough.
“A lot of the individuals that are running through our drug operation … it’s not their first rodeo,” Thornton said about repeat offenders.
When it comes to dealing with the public, Kirby and officers spoke about Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for people with mental illness. Some officers said it was beneficial. Kirby said there was a lot of cases of mental problems, that society turns the police on. Thornton spoke about screenings for mental issues and inmates showing symptoms.
“We’re not equipped to deal with that and I don’t know of any resources outside of us that’s equipped to deal with it either,” Thornton said.
Clinton Police Chief Donald Edwards said his officers have had the fortune of being trained for CIT.
“We’ve actually had individual citizens with guns to their heads that have been talked down by CIT-trained officers,” Edwards said. “The benefit is well worth it.”
In connection with mental illness, Kirby and law officials also discussed opioid drug problems. There was a consensus that it’s affecting local counties and officials stressed the importance of working together to stop dealers. It was mentioned that teamwork was essential, especially being next to major highways such as Interstate 40.
Another topic brought up by Kirby was building relationships with the community. One idea was to have “a thousand eyes” to help police monitor crime. Thornton said there’s not a day that goes by where he’s not getting a call or a recorded message.
“We’ve done a pretty good job establishing eyes in the community to contact us,” Thornton said.
During the meeting, Kirby continued to stress the importance of law officials working together and having active operations to deal with issues such as opioids and working with the District Attorney’s office.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.