(pictured above: Dr. Charlie Shaw (right) shakes hands with Chief Barry Rountree. Behind Shaw is Sheriff Bill Schatzman.)
Winston-Salem Police Chief Barry Rountree and Forsyth County Sheriff William “Bill” Schatzman engaged business leaders in candid conversation last week at the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce.
The forum, which attracted just over a dozen local business stakeholders, was part of an ongoing effort the Chamber is making to encourage dialogue among people in leadership positions across the community through its Leadership Roundtable Series. Perry Hudspeth of Anchor Financial Group moderated the discussion, introducing the veteran law enforcers and inviting those present to “talk to them about anything law enforcement-related.”
Rountree, who was promoted to chief last summer, voiced his top priorities, which include building better relationships between the WSPD and the community it serves, and increasing diversity within the department.
“The number one priority with any law enforcement agency should be to reduce crime and protect the residents of the city,” he said. “One of the other things I want to do is do more of what I’m doing – listen – so I can better serve the community.”
The men talked about the challenges they face in their efforts to serve the citizens of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.
“We have the same issues as any county has,” said Schatzman, who will seek a fourth term as sheriff this year. “…Where the dialogue gets intense is about how many people we have, how many officers, so that’s a continuing challenge.”
The men responded to a volley of questions on everything from the functions and operations of their respective agencies to more serious issues such as gun control and violence. Rountree highlighted the police department’s upcoming gun buyback program, which he hopes will serve as an awareness campaign as well as getting dangerous weapons off the streets.
The sheriff said the sheriff’s office has fought to maintain control of issuing gun permits, which he says have been in high demand in recent years, but Schatzman asserts that gun control is not the answer.
“Guns are not bad. The people that carry guns and use guns sometimes are bad,” he said. “…It’s a societal thing. It’s an empty nest thing. It’s a lack of parental guidance thing. It’s culture – it’s all of that stuff.”
Both men said their agencies are well prepared to respond appropriately in the unlikely event of a school shooting in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County area.
“We have protocols and procedures to respond to the schools,” Schatzman assured the group. “…We plan for the worst, operate for the worst and hope for the best.”
Rountree said his officers are well versed on details such as the layout of local schools and have established relationships with school administrators and staff. That preparedness paid off last August when Officer Tim Wilson, the school resource officer at Carver High School, apprehended a student who discharged a firearm on the school grounds, injuring another student. Because of his quick response, no other students or staff members were endangered, Rountree said.
“We have planned drills,” he said. “…Everybody knows what to do if something happens.”
The presence of law enforcement officers, or school resource officers as they are called, on the campuses of local schools was the subject of much discussion. Both the sheriff’s office and the police department supply resource officers to schools, and Schatzman said he’d like to see their numbers increase. Chamber member Dr. Charlie Shaw questioned the need for such officers, noting a common complaint in the black community that the presence of law enforcement on school campuses can escalate situations to the criminal justice system that otherwise would have been handled within the school. Schatzman said that simply isn’t the case.
“The SRO is there to enforce the law. He isn’t there to stop kids from running in the hallways,” he declared, noting that part of the SRO’s function is to build positive relationships with the student body.
Shaw, a commercialization associate at Wake Forest Innovations, said he still has concerns about the possibility of minority males being disproportionately impacted by the presence of SRO’s on school campuses.
“I think they sort of addressed it, but I think the conversation should be a little broader,” the Fayetteville native said of Schatzman and Rountree’s responses to his question. “It needs more attention than it’s getting.”
Other topics of discussion included the possible closure of the county’s Youth Detention Center, which Rountree said would ultimately cost the city, the perils of false alarms from automated alarm systems, which take officers off the streets unnecessarily, and North Carolina’s Castle Doctrine, which the police chief said bears a striking resemblance to Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law.
The Leaders Roundtable Series will continue on Wednesday, March 26 with a discussion featuring Dr. Beverly Emory, superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. For more information, visit www.winstonsalem.com.