Cornelius police beefing up drug enforcement, patrols
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS — Drugs are a problem in every community, Chief Bence Hoyle said, and it’s one the police department is working actively to curtail in Cornelius.
“Narcotics is the bane of a community. It’s a cancer,” Hoyle said. “What’s unique here is we have a lot of bars. This is almost a resort atmosphere, so we have our share.”
To help crack down on street-level sales and trafficking, Hoyle proposed during the town board of commissioners’ planning session Jan. 20 that the department add a third person to that unit.
“Whether that’ll be a budget or internal move, I don’t know yet,” Hoyle said. “But the more drug enforcement we do, the less quality-of-life crimes we have, like fights and shootings. We’ve been fortunate we don’t have a lot of homicides, but the ones we do have are drug related.”
In addition to beefing up the narcotics unit, the department will be putting a lot more officers on the street, in uniform, for what Hoyle calls “visible drug enforcement,” during the next month.
“We’re sending officers out in the community, in uniform, to talk to people. In contrast to undercover, which we’re still doing, this gets us out confronting known dealers on the street, open and overtly,” Hoyle said. “We’ll try and go after street level and traffickers. We’ve been very successful with that. We’re not trying to fix a problem we can’t address. We’re trying to address more of it.”
Hoyle said being overt about enforcement lets the community know the police are there, actively trying to address the situation.
“We get a lot of support from these communities,” Hoyle said. “We’re very fortunate to have the relationship we have, and we’re going to leverage that.”
Hoyle said one of the biggest issues in town is prescription fraud, and said there really is no socioeconomic limit to the neighborhoods where drugs are sold, or the people buying and selling them.
“If you look at Cornelius as a whole, you don’t look at it as big drug-ridden community by any means,” Hoyle continued. “But the expectations we put on ourselves, we have to really go out there and do something about what we do have because it drives theft and everything else.”
Hoyle said a big frustration, for the department and community, is the length of time it takes to make a bust on a drug house.
“We can’t search a house without probable cause,” Hoyle said. “Every time we get a call on a house, it just gives us an address, not a reason to search. Over a period of time, we find someone who is buying drugs from that house – and we know how to find out who’s buying drugs there – and befriend them, and then get introduced to the sellers, make purchases, make multiple purchases to get the trafficking charges, because that’s mandatory jail time.”
Hoyle said the focus is largely on traffickers, because that is a mandatory prison sentence, versus arresting someone on possession, because the less they’re carrying, the less, to no time at all, they’ll do.
“It could take up to two years to shut down a drug house,” Hoyle said. “That’s why the size of the unit is important. Each officer works maybe 30 cases because if they spent too much time on one house, that’d be suspicious to the seller. We have to harvest it like a normal relationship. It’s very dangerous work. To not have enough people is really risky. We have two and we’re going to have three.”
Getting to that level though will either require recruiting someone in-house or hiring someone by cutting from the traffic unit or outreach programs.
“That’s why I’m sensitive about cost, because we’re going to have to sacrifice something,” Hoyle said. “It’s a balancing act.”
The Huntersville Police Department has been operating a vice/narcotics unit for about six years with two officers. A sergeant occasionally assist the two vice officers on cases, but the two vice officers also help out with general investigations and serious cases when necessary.
Deputy Chief Michael Kee said he couldn’t really get into how his department runs the unit, because of the nature of the undercover work, but said the department works with a task force in Charlotte to combat drug deals because a lot of people from Charlotte come to the area to make their deals.
“We use other agencies to help us, and we work to help them at times,” Kee said. “We have the typical issues any town faces. We’re not immune to any of that here.”
How to report crimes
To report crime in your neighborhood or send a tip to police, call:
• Huntersville, 704-464-5400
• Cornelius, 704-892-1363
• Davidson, 704-892-5131
To leave anonymous tips, call the North Mecklenburg Crime Stoppers at 704-896-7867.