While both of the county’s head law enforcement officers—Sheriff Lewis Hatcher and District Attorney Jon David—received overwhelming victories in the primaries, such a show of support does not mean it’s time for anyone to rest on their laurels.
David’s office has had a few missteps along the route since his first election; Hatcher was very popular as chief deputy under Chris Batten, but indications are Hatcher could have won the election even without Batten’s endorsement.
Our county is facing significant criminal problems, even moreso than counties where the economy has taken a slight turn for the better. It isn’t the job of law enforcement to create jobs, but in our county’s case, we have a thriving industry in the illegal sale of prescription drugs. This is a challenge that both law officers and prosecutors have yet to adequately meet, although there have been legitimate, laudable strides in the right direction. Better regulation of the medical community is necessary before the prescription drug problem can be controlled, so for the time being, law enforcement and prosecutors have to be relied upon to handle this monstrous problem.
Problems don’t just exist on the streets, either. The edicts sent down from the Raleigh and Washington politicians for more school security and more emphasis on gangs are rarely accompanied by checks to fund such programs. Court battles over David’s drunk driving court have been an embarrassment to all sides of the issue of driving while impaired. In the meantime, crimes continue, and get worse, despite the best efforts of law enforcement.
David has something of an adversarial reputation with defense attorneys; this is a good thing, as long as that adversity does not develop into a state where there is no cooperation. The line he balances is a thin one—prosecutors must be able to be on friendly professional terms with defense attorneys, since pleas are sometimes the proper choice for some crimes, yet too many bad guys have returned to the streets to commit too many more crimes in districts across this state where prosecutors and defense attorneys became cozy. Too many repeat offenders crowd the county’s courts.
The specter of electronic gaming has again reared its head, due to additional loopholes bored by the gaming lobby, and local law enforcement and the courts can only put off dealing with e-gambling for so long. While we applaud the careful approach David and local law officers had when the games were first banned, when the new, improved, ‘legal’ machines come to Columbus, a coherent, effective policy will have to be created and consistently followed.
Hatcher’s influence over the sheriff’s office is already showing. While some of his opponents and detractors have poked fun at Hatcher’s requirement that his officers maintain a professional appearance, a sharp appearance elicits respect in public and increases morale in the ranks. A well-shined pair of shoes might not stop the prescription drug problem, but an officer with a professional, commanding appearance can quickly defuse a dangerous situation, as well as providing a better image for our county’s law enforcement.
Neither David nor Hatcher currently face competition on the fall ballot (and unless a petition drive surprises us, neither will). The vote last week was one of confidence in the status quo—and a call to responsibility for both men to improve communication and cooperation between the DA and law enforcement, and fulfill their most important duty—to protect and serve the people of Columbus County.