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Sheriff reflects on first year successes, changes
Sheriff Kent Winstead has finished his first year

LOUISBURG -- Kent Winstead isn't vain, but appearance matters.

How his officers appear when they respond to a call is important -- many of them are equipped with body cameras so there is an objective view about how they interact with the public and do their job.

How his officers appear on the roads is important: the department has purchased GPS units and, once activated, will keep track of an officer's whereabouts and travel speed.

The whereabouts of everything, and the ability to "see" where they are is important, so the department has instituted a quarter master -- Sgt. Harry Upchurch -- who is responsible for knowing the location of every piece of equipment and resource.

The office's financial picture is important, so what happens to money that shows up at the jail or animal control is clear -- the office has installed mechanisms that keep track of an inmate's cash electronically when they are booked, rather than have it kept on site, and there are layers of accounting now in animal control that make more than one person accountable for financial transactions.

The public's view of the department's work is important, Winstead said, so the department has begun a case management plan that requires officers to contact crime victims, via letter or telephone, within two weeks, at least, to provide a status update on their case.

To that same end, the department also has a revamped website, that is equipped with a mobile application that allows residents, via their cell phones, the opportunity to tap into the jail's database, accessing information about a suspect's charges, bail amount and court date.

The website also has a link to RAIDS, Regional Analysis and Information Sharing, that allows residents to punch in their address and zip code and pinpoint areas on the map that have recently been affected by crime, such as break-ins.

It's all been part of the effort that he and his command staff have tried to put in place during his first year in office.

"It's been a good year," Winstead said during a recent interview. "We've have a lot of things we wanted to put in place to be more transparent and accountable.

"The new website and other things we've done have demonstrated that."

Technology isn't the only way the office has been changed, Winstead said. He's tried to change the culture and the face of the department, literally.

Face lift

"One of the biggest things is we want to hire people to represent the county, all groups," Winstead said. "We have focused on that and it's coming along.

"I think we had four or five African Americans that were deputies when we took office.

"We have 16 now and one Hispanic man," Winstead said. "

"Out of 80, that's still a low number ... but it's a start."

"... And with a lot of things that are going on in the country, we've focused on diversity and ethics training."

All aboard the train

Diversity and ethics training aren't the only training tactics being made available to deputies.

Winstead hired Bill Lilly as the department's training coordinator and he sets up sessions, ranging from firearms training to the mandatory training that all officers need.

Officers have also been able to take advantage of virtual arms training through a course at Nash Community College where they can get tips and learn techniques on how to deal with domestic-violence-related calls -- which make up a good majority of the department's responses.

Officers also have just recently been able to take advantage of an advanced driving school -- the same one used by the State Highway Patrol.

"A well-trained officer will not have as many problems as others," Winstead said. "They feel more confident out in the field when they've got that training and experience to fall back on."

Training and knowledge are important to an officer and the department, Winstead said, but so are practical things, such as knowing what you have and what you might need.

Policing the police

When Winstead took office, he had a goal of having an audit performed.

However, he said he soon realized that the task, whether it was performed by a private company or through the state, came with a cost.

"We reached out to the state treasurer," Winstead said. "It was $50,000 to do a complete audit.

"We would have loved to do it, but we didn't have the funds in the budget to do it," he said. "We had the [State Bureau of Investigation] and the [Alcohol Law Enforcement] come in to review the evidence room. You always do that when there is a change of administration.

"Everything they said was to be there was there, but if there was something that was supposed to come in and didn't, we don't know.

"But it gave us a good baseline.

"That's one of the reasons we started the quarter master program," Winstead said. "We know where every piece of property is, down to paper clips."

"... When we came into office, we couldn't find a lot of things," Winstead continued. "Maybe there was a sheet that showed where folks were given some stuff, but we didn't know if they turned ot in, still had it, or what.

"Now, we've got someone keeping up with it."

Keeping up with hot spots

Another thing Winstead said his department wants to keep up with are areas plagued by crime.

The department is putting together a Community Action Team, a four-officer squad that will be tasked with calming down crime hot spots, whether it's as innocuous as speeding, or as severe as drug sales, break-ins or other crimes specific to an area.

"They will work in problem areas, doing drug interdictions or working in places where we have a big rate of break-ins," Winstead said.

"They will have all the equipment they need and be certified in about everything you can do."

Finances in order

Through efforts such as the quarter master and other techniques, Winstead said, the department has tried to keep costs in line.

Vehicle maintenance was put out to bid and about 20 different service shop reps responded.

The service, which is not contracted, remains with Pete Smith Automotive, Winstead said, but the company came down on some of its prices.

Pete Smith primarily handles oil changes and tire service for the department's fleet.

Other services can be done at other auto repair shops when pricing and efficiency dictate.

"The other services are kind of passed around," Winstead said. "It just depends.

"[Upchurch] calls around, tells them what we have or need and finds out what they can do it for."

Housing federal inmates is another way the department helps its bottom line and the county's overall fiscal picture, Winstead said.

The county has had a long history with housing federal inmates. Winstead has continued that practice, he said, and tried to make sure his officers have the equipment and support they need to continue the task.

Housing federal inmates generates about $300,000 to $500,000 a year more than what it's budgeted to bring in.

"I'm hoping it will help ease costs for taxpayers in the end," he said. "We've got people that work hard making sure it happens."

A year on the job,
but years of experience

Winstead has been in law enforcement for more than two decades, but it's his first year in the sheriff's seat.

One thing he said he has learned is that for most of the general public, their only interaction with the sheriff will be through the extension of his staff and road deputies.

He wants to make sure they are as well equipped, trained and professional as possible to do their jobs.

It only helps with appearance.

"All the pressure is on the sheriff," he said. "That's why I want to give my officers the most tools and training to be successful.

"I tell them all the time that if they go out and cuss someone out, everything falls back on me.

"... We're trying to change the culture to be more user friendly here and they've done a great job responding."

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