Cornelius wants county to pay for lake calls
by Staff Writer
by Brian Carlton
CORNELIUS – If Cornelius police have to handle calls on Lake Norman, the town board wants Mecklenburg County to pay for it.
Town council members discussed the issue during a recent meeting, listing several incidents in the past month where Charlotte Mecklenburg police were unavailable, so town police officers handled the calls.
“These calls aren’t being responded to (by CMPD),” town council member John Bradford said. “It could be something very serious. All it takes is one thing to happen.”
Mayor Jeff Tarte echoed Bradford’s concerns, highlighting an incident last month where a pontoon boat got loose and hit the docks. Cornelius police took the call because CMPD was not in the area.
“What if that had been somebody who had a medical emergency?” Tarte asked.
Cornelius Police Chief Bence Hoyle also spoke to the board about a March 31 call. Davidson College called the department because there was a drunk boater driving around on the lake. The call came in at 7 p.m. on Saturday and CMPD didn’t have a boat on the water, Hoyle said.
“Eventually, somebody’s going to get killed out there,” he warned.
Earlier this year, Mecklenburg rejected a proposal from Cornelius that would have seen the police department take over lake patrols. Instead, the county extended its contract with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police to monitor the water.
CMPD spokesman Robert Tufano said the department is dedicated to guaranteeing public safety, saying nobody had presented any evidence showing they weren’t achieving that goal.
“The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s commitment is to ensure public safety on the lake,” Tufano said. “We have always worked with and will continue to work with adjoining agencies asking for assistance. If there is any tangible evidence that we’re not accomplishing that goal then we as an organization need to be made aware of these facts so we can review our operating procedures and make any necessary adjustments to provide the best possible police service to lake residents.”
Hoyle had proposed that Cornelius take over because the current lake patrol leaves around 8 p.m. and he felt there needed to be 24-hour coverage on the water. The lake patrol officers don’t live in Cornelius, so it takes them longer to respond to calls when they’re not already on the water. Hoyle and town council members also felt that since Cornelius police already respond to any lake call when CMPD isn’t available, they need to be paid for it by the county.
“Our issue of course is the staffing issue,” Hoyle said, pointing out the police department doesn’t have the manpower to patrol the lake, without additional funding. “If we say we’re going to take on lake patrol, we have to be ready at any time to do that.”
Cornelius police operated a full time lake patrol unit last summer, as Hoyle said they received more than 100 911 calls from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In order to fund that however, the department had to pull officers from traffic duty, as well as put a temporary stop to several crime prevention programs.
Billing the county
To address the problem, Bradford suggested the town bill Mecklenburg County each time they respond to a call, since CMPD has the current contract for lake patrol.
“We know we’re going to go to the call because we have a moral obligation,” Bradford said. “We’re not taking advantage, we’re trying to solve an obvious need. We’re doing real work that they should do, so we’re going to do it, but we’re going to bill you for it.”
Bradford acknowledged that the county would probably not pay the bill, but felt it would create a record of calls handled by the town, to use in later discussions.
“The right thing to do is we have to respond,” Bradford said. “Like it or not, we don’t have a choice. Something’s got to happen.”
Hoyle said that he believed CMPD wanted to work on the issue, but they and Mecklenburg County don’t see the need for a 24-7 lake patrol.
“I don’t see CMPD as an adversary on this,” Hoyle said. “They don’t necessarily agree that we need 24-7 (coverage) and I don’t think the county agrees.”
Hoyle said he planned to meet with CMPD officials to discuss the topic.
Town Manager Anthony Roberts said he spoke with officials from the county manager’s office, indicating Cornelius would like to be involved in any discussions on the subject, including an outline of what performance standards the current lake patrol needs to achieve.
The council agreed to wait until after Hoyle’s discussion with CMPD to make any decisions, with plans to possibly discuss it at their next meeting.