North Meck will implement remote magistrate
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – North Mecklenburg has been financially handcuffed in its efforts to bring a magistrate to the area, but technology may provide a temporary solution.
Sometime next year, video streaming from local police stations to the Charlotte magistrate will be implemented to help preserve town resources.
Currently, police officers and citizens have to travel to Charlotte to appear before a magistrate.
The ability to remotely handle court case would save thousands in costs associated with transportation for both the police department and private citizens.
Bringing a victim’s advocate to north Mecklenburg through the United Family Services, now known as Safe Alliance, was the first step in bringing a magistrate to the area.
The advocate works with victims of domestic violence, child abuse and physical and sexual assault throughout the legal process.
“We were having a hard time making the case … that there was a lot of need in the Lake Norman area,” said Kathryn Firmin-Sellers, director of process improvement at Safe Alliance. “But it’s a myth that it was an urban problem.”
The victim’s advocate is not only aiding in bringing a magistrate to the area, but “when victims advocacy works well, it is a boon to the police department,” Firmin-Sellers said.
The victim’s advocate is educated in the court system, stays in contact with officers on specific cases and provides emotional support to victims.
According to Firmin-Sellers, when a victim’s advocate is present, victims are far more likely to proceed with the case and prosecution.
Firmin-Sellers said when a victim of domestic violence reports a crime, they might need food, clothing and shelter. The case management issue, which can be a very time-consuming process, is something with which the victim’s advocate can help.
The victim’s advocate has been operating for about 18 months and has served 108 people in person and an additional 90 over the phone in 2012.
“The need for a magistrate in the Lake Norman area has been voiced for the last 10 years,” according to District 1 County Commissioner Karen Bentley.
The state will determine if Mecklenburg County can get another magistrate. It would require major reworking of funds that aren’t currently available, Bentley said.
For now, the most financially viable solution is to use video that will allow citizens to remain in north Mecklenburg and for the magistrate to stay in Charlotte.
Town ordinances curb costs
In Cornelius, the police department is establishing town ordinances as an alternative solution to conserving resources.
The ordinances are, “a gray-area fix,” said Police Chief Bence Hoyle. “So in those situations where it’s either all or nothing, we have an option.”
An example Hoyle gave was when someone reported to the police as being disorderly returns home in the time it takes officers to get to the location of the report.
Instead of having to arrest the person and take them to Charlotte after they are no longer a public disturbance, officers will be able to write them a ticket.
Instances where police are able to enforce an ordinance saves the officers and citizens a trip to Charlotte and saves everyone court costs, Hoyle said.
There will be instances, however, when the trip to Charlotte must be made – such as a DWI, which is a state ordinance violation.
The new ordinances were approved by the Cornelius commissioners Nov. 19.
Hoyle said that even though they were approved, “you’re not going to see any sudden enforcement of those ordinances; they’re there as back up for a state law.”
New Cornelius town ordinances approved
• 130.12: Impersonation of town officers and employees.
According to Hoyle, this ordinance came about after someone claiming to work for the town told people playing on a field to leave. The impersonator was not a town employee and wanted the other people to leave so they could use the field. Previously, it was only a violation to impersonate a police officer, not a town officer or employee. It is now a ticketable offense.
• 130.14: Failure to pay transportation fare
Hoyle said this ordinance is targeted mostly at people who take a taxi from Charlotte to Cornelius and do not intend to pay the fare. The ordinance allows officers a choice besides taking the person to jail. Officers can make the person get the money to pay the fare or to write a ticket.
For a full list of the approved ordinance revisions, visit corneliuspublic.novusagenda.com and click on the Nov. 19 agenda.