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Election news last week kept an interesting, even funny, story off the front page — the two guys who thought they stole marijuana but only stole quite-legal hemp. They literally were left holding the bag.
During a traffic stop on Oct. 27, Spring Hope police smelled the familiar scent of pot wafting from the vehicle and discovered two trash bags in the trunk full of what looked like marijuana plants.
The cops charged the two young men, both 21, with drug trafficking and other drug-related offenses, but the drug charges were dropped when a later investigation found that the two would-be pot dealers had stolen legally grown hemp plants from a farm in Franklin County. The non-intoxicating plants are grown for industrial use, not for recreational smoking.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office charged the clueless young men with “larceny of ungathered crops,” a felony. Apparently the drug-dealing duo was duped by drugless dope.
What wasn’t funny but nonetheless impressive was the usual long list of incidents and solved crimes by Spring Hope’s police that was included in Police Chief Nathan Gant’s crime report during the town commissioners’ November meeting.
Police responded to two domestic disputes and made arrests. They caught two people driving with suspended licenses. They solved a vehicle theft from Denton Automotive. They helped the sheriff’s office find a vehicle fleeing from another domestic dispute with an impaired driver and three children inside.
And this was a relatively quiet month. Many monthly reports are even longer. And the reports only include the action, not the hours of patrolling and protection our small police department puts in to keep town residents safe.
After 44 years of observing the Spring Hope Police Department, starting with Chief Opie Pace and continuing on with six successors, I am convinced that we don’t fully appreciate how fortunate we are. Our police department isn’t perfect and over the decades has had a few bumps along the way, but overall our chiefs and their officers have done their best to provide professional law enforcement to Spring Hope.
What always and particularly impresses me is how often our local police actually solve crimes that in bigger cities might remain unsolved. Sometimes they even solve them quickly. Chief Pace told me once he was able to resolve most cases because he made it a point to know “his people” and gained their respect and trust. Because of that, he had eyes and ears all over town. When something happened, he soon would find out who did what.
I’ve seen that same connection replay itself over and over again as our small department, even before the term “community policing” became popular, keeps its roots deep within the community. Our police have promoted neighborhood watches and other preventative programs. We’ve also been fortunate that our chiefs, supported by successive town managers, have also made every effort to keep the department up-to-date with law enforcement tools, technology and training. Spring Hope’s police department may be small, but it’s good.
Something else that has helped is the close ties of law enforcement in Nash County. When I first came to Nash County, the sheriff’s office needed lots of work and didn’t have great relations with municipal police departments. Successive sheriffs since then have done a good job in improving their own department, making it more efficient and professional, and enhancing their relationships with local police. Our agencies work well together and we don’t have the law enforcement scandals some other counties have endured — and that’s a blessing.
It’s important for a community, and the county, to be able to trust and have confidence in our law enforcement agencies. And that’s their responsibility, to do what it takes to earn and deserve our trust. A community that doesn’t feel safe isn’t safe.
But we citizens also need to remember how much we ask of our police, our deputies and the Highway Patrol. When all is well, we see them usually at a distance, driving by. But when we have a problem — a car accident, a robbery, an assault, a fight at home, say — they are our “first responders” who are there, sometimes at risk of their own lives, to protect us in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
Our cops are like our soldiers, but fighting crime and danger, not wars. And sometimes, like our soldiers, they don’t come home.
Last week we could laugh at dumb thieves who confused hemp with pot. Next week it could be something far more serious or dangerous. But in all cases, let’s thank our police officers for their service and give them all the support we can.
Ken Ripley, a resident of Spring Hope, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.