Police work relies on community support for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. That’s why officers with the Gastonia Police Department (GPD) cultivate relationships in the community along with providing highly professional police services.
“More than ever building strong relationships based on genuine trust between residents and law enforcement is essential,” Chief Trent Conard said. “Bridges between the public and our officers have resulted in many positive accomplishments, especially today when nationally many citizens are speaking out negatively about police actions and the use of force.”
Organizationally, the GPD has two main divisions: Field Services and Support Operations. Field Services includes all uniformed officers in Patrol, the Street Crimes Unit and the Traffic Bureau. Support Operations includes the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) and the Special Investigations Division (SID). The CID consists of Detectives, Juvenile Investigations and the Identification Bureau. The SID provides investigations into vice-narcotics and organized crime with a focus on drug trafficking, public corruption and Homeland Security. Assistant Chief Aaron Wurster leads Field Services and Assistant Chief Nancy Brogdon leads Support Operations.
The GPD is nationally accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). The process to become accredited focuses on best practices and standards to ensure preparation to meet service expectations and manage critical events.
“CALEA accreditation is a voluntary process that recognizes the pursuit of professional excellence and, because the local community is involved in actual assessments, GPD’s accreditation in 2014 and reaccreditation in 2017 is a positive statement about our community as well as our police department,” Chief Helton said.
How GPD Officers Build Bridges in the Community
So how does the GPD reach out to the community? The City’s and the GPD’s citizen academies, the Gastonia Community Watch Association and many other community outreach efforts and partnerships help to build public trust. Crime Prevention officers, Community Coordinators and public information efforts are all a part of community education and outreach efforts.
A significant community partnership involves the covenant between local law enforcement and the Gaston Clergy & Citizens Coalition (GC3). Members of the GC3 are area ministers and citizen advocates that work together to build community relations among the races. Chief Helton and other local law enforcement leaders originally signed a covenant with the GC3 in 2016 to be proactive and build even stronger community relationships. The covenant was signed again in November 2019 because a number of new police chiefs were not listed on it.
Other bridges include the Gastonia Police Foundation (GPF), which supports the GPD with community outreach, officer wellness, professional development, evolving technology, public safety equipment, research, the police memorial and youth programs such as Shop with a Cop and CSI Camp.
GPD’s organization includes the Office of Professional Standards, which handles hiring and personnel matters; the Police Attorney, Laura Burton, who keeps the department abreast of ever changing laws; and the Problem Analysis & Research Center (PARC), which assists the department with statistics and analysis for manpower allocation and various projects, as well as providing CALEA coordination and management. The PARC director is Amanda Neese.
GPD’s Records Bureau handles court documentation and case management, communications and quality control, as well as being GPD’s point of contact for the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the N.C. SBI’s Division of Criminal Information (DCI). Records also provides a tele-service to take some types of police reports over the phone, as well as validations of guns, vehicles, missing persons, runaways, and maintenance of permits and domestic violence orders. Records staff also man GPD’s front desk (704-866-6702) and assist many callers with general information questions. Emily Burr is the Records supervisor.
In addition to regular duties, GPD officers can be involved with Special Teams like the K-9 Unit, SWAT Team, Bomb Squad, Hostage Negotiators, Shift Tactical Team/Field Force Officers or join local or federal task forces.
“All of the GPD strives to accomplish the department’s mission to Protect, Serve and Enhance the Quality of Life for All,” Helton said, starting with the department’s Police Training Officer Program. In PTO training new officers hone problem-based learning skills and their application to police activities. Community projects are selected, data is gathered, and a plan to solve or impact the problem is created and implemented. After the project is completed data is used to measure success.
Working with the GPD to Help Reduce Crime
Statistics in the GPD 2018 Annual Report: Cultivating Community & Collaboration show a 27 percent decrease in crime from 2008 to 2018. In 2018 there were 87,237 calls for police service and 8,926 criminal offenses. There were 155 violent crime arrests, 852 property crime arrests, 95 juvenile arrests, and 4,899 arrests in other more minor crimes. There were also 4,324 vehicle crashes in 2018 and programs to promote traffic safety in our community.
“We’ve reduced crime greatly over the years,” Helton said, adding that there’s still work to be done to continue crime reductions. Gastonia’s population is 77,024. The GPD has 199 employees. There were 27,062 visits to the GastoniaPD.org website in 2018 as well as 28,145 social media followers and Nextdoor members. And did you know the GPD has three Patrol Districts: East, West and Central?
For some problems such as a suspicious person or vehicle, or when someone needs to speak with an officer, the police non-emergency number can be used (704-866-3300). More complex issues such as a neighborhood nuisance at a rental property generally requires additional planning and legwork that can start after the initial call to an officer, district captain or sergeant. Some cases require follow-up investigation by the Criminal Investigations or Special Investigations Divisions.
“We have many options to address crime trends or community issues, and our officers can create something new if needed,” Helton said. “We want our citizens and visitors to feel safe, understand crime prevention measures, and understand how to work with us so we can make Gastonia as safe as possible for everyone.”