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Norwood Town Council considers police presence on Lake Tillery

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Norwood Town Council, opinions differed in regards to moving forward with plans to add a police presence on Lake Tillery with a boat.

While local residents and law enforcement members agreed with some members of the council, Mayor Harold Thompson expressed concerns about the potential costs.

Resident Cecil Curlee said he and his neighbors are in favor of it, calling it a “vital service.”

Norwood Police Chief James Wilson spoke to the board along with Stanly County Sheriff Jeff Crisco. Wilson said his department has received numerous complaints about problems with boats on the lake.

Most of the complaints deal with loud music late at night and boats going too fast, Wilson said, creating a wake near docks and the problem of boating while impaired.

Wilson said the problems are affecting citizens of the lake community, noting comments on social media expressing the idea that if they realized things on Lake Tillery were so bad, they would not have purchased property.

“If we take the title of ‘Gateway to Lake Tillery’ then it’s definitely something to have a discussion about.”

The chief shared one recent incident of a boat parked 200 yards off the shore playing loud music between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. An officer pulled his car up to the shore and flashed his light, but the person ignored the officer “because he knew we couldn’t do anything about it.”

Wilson shared another incident where a number of kayaks were stolen from a residence 15 minutes after having been moved down to the dock from their front yard.

While there is a wildlife officer in the area, Wilson said, that person has to cover four lakes.

“We’re really essentially going without any type of law enforcement presence on our lake,” Wilson said.

A number of summer homes have been broken into since Wilson joined the staff in 2015, he added.

Wilson said the proposed boat was not for enforcement of life jackets or fire extinguishers but more of establishing a presence on the water.

“(Police) being present in a community deters crime,” Wilson said. “It wouldn’t take long for us to have a presence out on the lake…our goal is to provide protection for our residents in our community.”

Beyond a reduction in crime, though, the chief said a new boat would allow police to respond quickly in emergency situations like a collision.

One boat the chief was researching would cost the town approximately $10,000.

“We don’t need a huge, crazy expensive boat for what our purposes are,” Wilson said.

Thompson asked about the police department’s jurisdiction in terms of the lake not being inside the municipality’s borders.

Wilson said the state allows one mile of extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) and the county extends that area to two miles.

“That doesn’t stop at the water,” Wilson said.

Wilson does not have a timeline for purchasing a boat.

“We need it yesterday,” Councilman Robbie Cohen said.

Speaking in support of the program, Crisco noted the average value of homes on the Stanly side of Lake Tillery is $347,000.

“Those are some prominent homes and those people ask for a service. They pay for a service,” Crisco said.

The sheriff said he is a big proponent of the law enforcement agencies working together as a team.

Crisco said the sheriff’s office has a boat on Badin Lake, but he described the lake as less recreational lake and more fishing.

Lake Tillery, however, is more historically known as a recreational lake, the sheriff said.

“That is where 95 percent of the accidents in boating and the boating while impaired charges come from,” he said.

Cohen shared a story of his son being in a boating incident on the lake. It took an hour and 15 minutes for someone from N.C a Wildlife to get to him.

Cohen said the presence is needed on regular days as much as holidays when “criminals and people know (law enforcement) are not going to be out there when they cut up.”

Crisco said the maintenance costs for the boat the sheriff’s office has is dependent upon use, but is no more than $3,000 per year.

Wilson said the lake has seen more activity this year due to restrictions imposed by the state for group gatherings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Crisco said the closing of boat ramps in Mecklenburg County has also added traffic to the late.

Thompson said there are “zero dollars” in the budget for the proposal and said Wilson should put a proposal together for a new boat.

Thompson added money coming into the town would be decreased because of less sales tax being collected due to the slowing of the economy from COVID-19. Any additional funds the town has in savings, Thompson said, may be needed to cover the shortfalls of the current economy.

Cohen said he pays $250 a week in property taxes and his property “is not protected from the waterfront.”

“I want to see my tax dollars at work,” Cohen said.

Thompson said he was not opposed to the idea of a boat, but the board should contact state officials such as Rep. Wayne Sasser. Crisco said he has spoken to Sasser about these issues.

Councilman Wes Hartsell said he believes the town needs a presence on the lake to be able to respond to calls in 10 to 20 minutes. He believes many of the problems on the lake are not caused by residents of the lakeside area, but other boats from elsewhere.

The discussion concluded with Cohen asking Wilson to bring a proposal to the next meeting.

Contact Charles Curcio at charles.curcio@stanlynewspress.com or call (704) 983-1361.

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored twice by the North Carolina Press Association.

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