Greensboro Proposes False Alarm Fee Increase

The Greensboro Fire and Police Departments currently lose about $1 million a year responding to alarms that were set off in error. During a City Council work session on May 27, members expressed concern over this waste of taxpayer dollars and proposed two solutions to help recoup some of the funds. At a work session on June 12, Council agreed on a final proposal for the fee changes.

Currently, the City charges a $50 fee for three of more false alarms at a property within a 12-month period. These charges bring in about $120,000 a year and only cover a fraction the cost required to address all the false alarms in the City.

At the May 27 work session Council members proposed enforcing higher fees. The proposal recommended that the City charge a fee of $50 starting with the second false alarm occurrence. This proposal would bring in an estimated additional $180,000 to help cover the public safety cost of addressing false alarms.

Councilman Jamal Fox proposed an even more aggressive fee system that would charge a $100 penalty beginning with the second false alarm. This proposal would increase revenue by an additional $400,000.

Council members felt that while Fox’s proposal was too severe, the revenue from the first proposed fee increase would not be sufficient.

Councilman Zack Matheny suggested a compromise between the two proposals with a $50 false alarm fee beginning with the second instance, and a $100 fee starting with the third occurrence. Council members quickly decided to adopt this Goldilocks option into the recommended budget, which is scheduled for a final vote on June 17.

The City of Greensboro defines false alarms as:

  1. Negligently activated signals that are the result of faulty or malfunctioning equipment.
  2. Signals activated to test the alarm systems that have not been approved by the Greensboro Police Department
  3. Signals that are purposely activated to summon police personnel in non-emergency
situations

Chief Ken Miller recommended that part of the ordinance should emphasize the importance of having property owners register their alarm information with the Police Department.

Winston-Salem currently fines property owners a $100 penalty for false alarms from unregistered units. Otherwise the City charges a $50 fee for the fourth and fifth false alarm occurrence within 12 months, $100 for the sixth and seventh, $250 for the eighth and ninth, and $500 after ten or more occurrences.

Campus mourns slain student athlete

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The campus and greater community of NC A&T University have been stunned by the homicide of sophomore and Aggie line backer, Jermane Clark, who was shot late Tuesday night near his home on Stedman Street.

Students and neighbors have been placing flowers, balloons and letters near the spot where Clark was shot. Many of the items are inscribed with Clark’s jersey number, 52.

A local church held a memorial service for Clark on campus in an outdoor area known as Bluford Circle at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Pastor Bill Russell leads the college ministry at One Church Assemblies of God and coordinated the event.

“As campus ministry leader, it’s saddening to see any student lose their life, especially to violence,” said Russell.

Russell said that many of the students in his ministry attend NC A&T and the some of those students knew Clark. On Tuesday night, he and some of the students were together playing the card game Phase 10 when word of Clark’s shooting started pouring in through social media outlets. The distraught students began to pray together and decided they wanted to host a similar prayer session on campus the following day,

Russell and students in the church reached out to campus ministries and announced the memorial event on Twitter and Facebook.

Brianne Alston, a sophomore at A&T and High Point native, was moved by the service and felt that the songs performed by the campus gospel choir “made the atmosphere more humble and honorable.”

The rain cleared just before 5 p.m. and about 200 students attended the memorial service. Members of the football team in attendance were very emotional and initially too distraught to speak. Eventually three teammates came forward to share memories of Clark and spoke about how he had a big heart.

The emotions of Clark’s death have been compounded by the stress felt by students in the midst of exams. Russell expressed sympathy for his students, “It’s very devastating because this is a hard time for our college students. They are getting ready to go into exams and finals, so the fact that they are hit with this during a time like this is very devastating.”

“The mood has been hectic,” said Alston. “All of this is happening at once.”

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Councilman Jamal Fox released a statement on Wednesday in response to the student athlete’s murder. “On behalf of Greensboro City Council, I would like to offer our deepest thoughts and sympathies to the Clark and the NC A&T families.”

Fox also voiced his commitment to make Greensboro a safer city through violence prevention and stated, “Greensboro residents have a right to be safe at home, at school, and in their neighborhoods. ”

Changes proposed for CRC process

In Greensboro, members of the CRC Enhancement Committee were in agreement on Tuesday afternoon that they would like to make changes to the Complaint Review Committee (CRC) process. Under the current process, citizens may file a complaint if they feel they have been treated unfairly by a member of the police department. The complaints are then sent to the Greensboro Police Department’s Professional Standards Division (PSD) who review the evidence and determine a ruling on the matter. If the citizen is not satisfied with the ruling they may ask the CRC to review the decision.

Members of the subcommittee include Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, Councilman Tony Wilkins and Councilman Jamal Fox. Chief Ken Miller was also there to listen to deliberations and interim city attorney, Tom Carruthers, provided legal guidance to members as they conceptualized process changes.

The proposed changes to the process were partially influenced by grievances of Lori Walton, who has had an ongoing case with the CRC for two years. Walton expressed frustration that information has been kept from her regarding her case, which involves two different accusations of child abuse inflicted on her son by Guilford County School employees.

Johnson expressed sympathy for Walton’s objections to the internal process. “To be shut out, and to not be a part of a process that involves your children, to me, is wrong,” Johnson stated. Wilkins asked members, “In my role as a councilmember, is there anything I can do to help Ms. Walton find a resolution?” Johnson said she felt it was outside the current realm of City Council, and so they needed to form a new process. For the present time, subcommittee members advised Walton to contact an attorney to help with obtaining the files related to her case. Chief Miller added that, “We [the police] would love to be able to provide the case. That is not the issue. The law is what prevents us from providing it.”

Mayor Vaughan suggested appointing a individuals separate from the CRC and the police department to help citizens through the process. The subcommittee discussed the possibility of letting each councilmember appoint an individual to serve through the duration of the councilmember’s term. Opinions were somewhat divided over whether or not there should be guidelines for appointing individuals to this role, and what sort of police training the appointee should undergo. Chief Miller said he would be willing to work with the CRC on expediting any sort of training course for such a role and suggested that objectivity would be a key trait for any appointee.

The CRC Enhancement Committee intends to move forward with plans to change the process by first researching the processes of other cities. Mayor Vaughan suggested that the committee members find out how other communities do things and joked that members could, “take a road trip, Thelma and Louise style!”

Instead of a cross-country tour, the subcommittee plans to send letters to communities with external boards in complaint review processes to find out more about the administrative logistics of how their process works and what type of feedback they have received from citizens. Communities to receive letters include the cities of Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Durham.

Officers try using Mobile Command Center for community outreach

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The Greensboro Police Department is reaching out to communities in a big way through a giant Thomas bus that serves as the Mobile Command Center. The Mobile Command Center is typically used as a smaller, portable headquarters at crime scenes or after a disaster. “We recently used this one for a homicide,” said Officer Smith, who also doubles as one of the Mobile Command Center bus drivers.

On Monday afternoon, the Mobile Command Center was out for a more amiable purpose. Parked adjacent to East Market Street and directly across from A&T University, the large bus was hard to miss. Officer Douglas Chambers, who is spearheading the program, hopes that the Mobile Command Center will serve as a tool to introduce officers to the community and encourage communication with citizens. “I think it’s important to build relationships,” said Chambers, “People will come up to us and say, ‘Hey, I saw some sketchy looking people in my neighborhood last week,’ and ask us to drive through.”

Two officers circled the Mobile Command Center on Segways while other officers stopped in and out. The mood was light as officers chatted and joked around with each other. Aboard the bus it was little cramped with a narrow aisle between two rows of phones and laptops. The idea is that curious citizens can take a peak inside, but, “it’s not super exciting in there,” Officer Chambers admitted.

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No citizens were around despite the best efforts of the officers to present a friendly and approachable demeanor. “We get only about two people per visit,” said Officer Chambers, “This hasn’t been working amazingly well. If we were grilling hotdogs, we’d be doing good.”

Each police district will do two outreach operations and Officer Chambers will bring The Mobile Command Center back to the East Market Street area on May 5th at the intersection of Booker and Cunningham.