Expect ‘more visible’ presence for Meck Sheriff’s Office after Cornelius speed stops

Expect ‘more visible’ presence for Meck Sheriff’s Office after Cornelius speed stops

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, NC (The Charlotte Observer) - Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden said Wednesday that he plans to keep enforcing traffic laws in the county, after a speeding enforcement operation raised questions about jurisdiction and “privilege” last month.

McFadden’s remarks followed a tense meeting with the Cornelius town board on Monday, during which the commissioners questioned McFadden about an operation Feb. 17 with 12 radar-equipped deputies pulling people over on Jetton Road.

“It was a very productive board meeting, because we see now that it has sparked more conversations,” said McFadden. “We want to educate each other about what the Sheriff’s Office of Mecklenburg County will continue to do and will be doing in the future.”

Municipal agencies like the Cornelius Police Department or the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department have usually taken the lead on speeding and law enforcement responses, while the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office has run the jail, served warrants and evictions, guarded the courthouse and processed handgun permit applications.

At Monday’s meeting, McFadden told the Cornelius commissioners that he believed “privilege” was at play in their questioning of his agency’s speed enforcement operation on Jetton. The road leads to wealthy subdivisions like the Peninsula, and the area is predominantly white.

“We all danced around it already,” McFadden said to the town commissioners. “It’s about privilege. It’s an African-American sheriff making differences in this city and county.”

Cornelius commissioners said the local police department hadn’t been informed about the operation beforehand, and they were surprised. Sheriff’s deputies ticketed 21 drivers in two hours on Jetton who they said were going more than 10 mph over the 35 mph speed limit.

McFadden initially declined to take questions Wednesday after his prepared remarks. When asked about Cornelius commissioners’ comments that they were “dumbfounded” by his remarks and were only following up on citizen questions, he replied, “That’s their opinion.”

McFadden, who was elected last year, also said that it wasn’t unusual for Mecklenburg County sheriff’s deputies to enforce traffic laws, but said people might see deputies more in the community.

“This is something we’ve always been doing,” he said. “We are more visible now under my leadership.”

Chief Deputy Rodney Collins said the Sheriff’s Office has conducted 20,000 traffic stops over the past four years, and that deputies are fully empowered to write tickets.

“We do roughly three to four targeted enforcements...every month,” said Collins. “This is not a new policy...We continue to do this, but we are more visible now.”

Asked to clarify, Collins said McFadden will be leading the office in a different way.

“We’re more visible because our sheriff is out front. He’s very visible,” said Collins. “We’ve always had a presence. But now we really have a presence.”

Collins was asked if the Sheriff’s Office plans to pursue more of the investigative and other law enforcement roles that are currently usually led by municipal agencies like CMPD.

“We eventually would like to expand into that,” he said.

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