By Dave Russell
Calls to the Sylva Police Department have shot up to record levels, felony arrests jumped 46.5 percent and drug arrests dropped about 15 percent, according to the end-of-year statistics released last week.
“Calls for service are up across the board,” Sylva Police Chief Chris Hatton said. “Thank goodness it’s not major crime like a bigger city would have, but it’s 24 hours a day. We always go. If someone has a snake in their garage, even though we are not trained for that, we’ll go help you get it out of there.”
The numbers could have been higher.
“For a good part of this year, we were 30 percent down in manpower, and when we weren’t 30 percent we were 20 percent down,” he said. “That definitely had an effect on this year. Some of our proactive work has gone down because our calls for service are rapidly going up.”
Daycare and park patrols decreased.
Still, every park in the town is visited daily, Hatton said.
“Some days they’re just riding through looking, just to make sure things are how they are supposed to be, sometimes they get out and walk and do a more thorough patrol,” he said.
Shoplifting is one driver for the felony arrest numbers. Add in people returning items they didn’t pay for, removing theft control devices or switching price tags, and it keeps officers busy.
“On one occasion, we had four incidents going on at Walmart at one time,” he said.
A pilot program lowering or not requiring bonds also drives felony numbers up.
“We have situations now where we catch someone committing some sort of crime and when we take them before the magistrate, they’re not getting a bond like they used to,” he said. “Now, they’re getting unsecured bond right then, with nothing out of pocket or property posted to assure they go to court. Even for felonies.”
Police then have to arrest them for failing to appear, and they are out committing more crimes, Hatton said.
“I can tell you it is frustrating,” he said.
Traffic accidents are up 20.5 percent. Hatton attributes that to more cars crowded onto roads not able to handle them.
“The infrastructure as it is right now is not designed for how many cars we have,” he said.
Up to 30,000 cars a day go through the intersection of Asheville Highway and N.C. 107, comparable to Tunnel Road in Asheville, he said.
“When you jam that many cars into a road, you know you’re going to have accidents,” Hatton said. “Then you’ve got the entrance to the schools right in town. It’s not out in the country somewhere that traffic can back up, it’s jammed in there with Ingles and all that.”
To make a dent in the collision numbers, Hatton plans to call in extra manpower to patrol Sylva’s roadways.
“We’re going to do a dangerous driver campaign next month,” he said. “We’re going to try as hard as we can with the resources we have to slow people down.”
The department did not track hours spent on festivals and parades last year, Hatton said.
“It would be an unbelievable amount,” Hatton said. “In the summer and late part of the year, we have an event it seems like every week.”
Hatton plans to keep a record of event hours in 2020.
“Sylva’s crime rate, for a town our size, is not good,” he said. “We’re definitely going to work on it.”