Policing in Eastern Carolina: Perspective from Law Enforcement Leaders

Policing in Eastern Carolina - Perspective from Law Enforcement Leaders
Published: May. 19, 2023 at 6:54 PM EDT
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EASTERN CAROLINA, N.C. (WITN) -All this week we have been examining Policing in Eastern Carolina taking a look at the dangers of the job, how community groups are working for accountability, and hearing from those getting set to enter law enforcement as a career.

As we wrap things up, we do so talking with law enforcement leaders in the east about the challenges they see, and how they’re working to make sure their officers keep the peace, and do so safely, and with honor.

Greenville Police Chief Ted Sauls has 26 years on the force. He followed in his dad’s footsteps who was the sheriff in Greene County.

Sauls says, “I came into it knowing that I wanted to be in public service, that I had a strong desire for conformity and the rules and had a great respect that had been instilled in me all along.”

Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance has been in law enforcement for more than 30 years. She started as a clerk at the sheriff’s office. Dance says, “That’s where I had an epiphany one day. I love coming to work. This is what I love doing. And here I am today.”

Kinston Police Chief Keith Goyette has put on the uniform for 23 years, with aspirations at first of becoming a teacher. He says, “I didn’t never plan on being in law enforcement long term and I never planned on being a police chief but I just fell in love with the job and to this day can’t imagine myself doing anything different.”

Being in law enforcement for decades, they have all seen tremendous change, and the challenges the profession now faces.

Recruitment and retention are among those challenges. Chief Goyette says the pandemic has played a part, as have high-profile officer-involved deaths like that of George Floyd.

Goyette says, “Ever since then It’s been very, very difficult for us to recruit officers and even retain some officers. Ya know a lot of police officers across the state and country are getting out of law enforcement.”

And then there is the issue of pay. Chief Sauls says, “People are seeing aspects of being able to make a greater income doing something that is less dangerous.”

Sheriff Dance says that danger says seems to have only increased since she started. “I don’t think it was as prevalent and on my mind as much back then because people were different. The atmosphere was different. During the time that I came in, there was a whole lot more people who respected law enforcement. Um, and the role we played in the community.”

The danger of the job, the pay, and the professionalism of the officers are all among the issues these leaders see as priorities in moving forward, and they’re being addressed in several ways.

Technology, whether it’s through our cellphones or officer body cameras allows us to see more interactions with law enforcement. It can capture the good and the bad. But either way, agencies say it can all be beneficial.

Dance says, “I know that after getting those body cameras my complaints went down 75 percent because those are the tools that holds us accountable. It holds the community accountable too.”

That accountability is a big focus for all, and it can go a long way, these leaders say, in preventing the unjustified use of force. Dance says, “There is this duty to intervene. A duty to report. Those are things that we are putting in place to make sure we’re policing ourselves on the front end.”

In Greenville, the department is nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, known as CALEA, which means they follow internationally accepted law enforcement standards.

Sauls says, “That training aspect is key but it’s also key that you talk about your expectations and that your staff, especially your command staff, those who are directing the officers all day, that we are on the same sheet and that they understand what’s expected.”

Goyette says the city of Kinston is now seeking that same accreditation. “We’re also bringing in top talented training for our officers. We’re bringing in bias free policing for our officers. Leadership. FBI leader courses. We make sure our officers have exactly what they need and then we also make sure our supervisors have what they need.”

While many police agencies across the east are also working on boosting pay, Sauls says some of the other benefits of being in law enforcement are big selling points. “After 30 years of public service, you have a pension and It’s not every profession that has that anymore.”

As the policing profession evolves and confronts its challenges to move forward, Sauls, Dance, and Goyettee say the job ultimately gets down to the same core principle that drew them in. Helping people.

Sauls says, “The adage that we are here for those that can’t protect themselves went a long ways with me then and it still does now. It is still one of the most honorable professions you can join.”

And that is ultimately what the leaders you heard from in this report are working to see continue, as are those in our reports from throughout the week, so that it is not only an honorable profession, but also one that is done with integrity to benefit all involved; the officers, and those in the communities they protect and serve.

Click here to watch Thursday’s report on Policing in Eastern Carolina: The Next Generation

Click here to watch Wednesday’s report on Policing in Eastern Carolina: Community Expectations.

Click here to watch Tuesday’s report on Policing in Eastern Carolina: Deadly Dangers.

Click here to watch Monday’s report on Policing in Eastern Carolina: The Veteran and the Rookie.