By Al Dozier
The Irmo Police Department is now considering five candidates for the second-in-command position, currently held by Capt. Don Perry.
Perry has been selected to be the next chief, succeeding current Chief Joe Nates, who has announced he plans to retire from the position he has held for the past 19 months. Nates, who has served in law enforcement for the past 20 years, said he plans to try something different.
The candidates seeking the captain’s post are current employees: Sgt. Brett Ringer, Sgt. Courtney Dennis, Sgt. John Hendricks, Sgt. Bobby Dale and Sgt. Andrea Grinstead.
As part of the selection process, the candidates agreed to take questions from the local media about drug activity, public perceptions of law enforcement issues in an era of social media and other issues.
Most of the candidates agreed that Irmo is facing a growing drug problem, based on the number of arrests in the past few years. Ringer, who has served the department for the past 14 years, said marijuana and unlawful pills are frequently found during investigations, but the perpetrators are often from areas outside of the town.
Dealing with drug problems requires immediate attention, a “nip in the bud,” according to Hendricks, who has been with the department since 2008. Officers need to be knowledgeable about drug activity to deal with them effectively.
The increase in drug arrests during the past three years can partly be attributed to the recent hiring of a full-time narcotics investigator, according to Dale. While drug investigations can sometimes lead to a public place, such as public schools and day care centers, policies and guidelines are in place to make sure people are protected, said Dale, who has been with the department since 2005.
Schools may have to be put on lockdown if police are in pursuit of a person who could pose a danger to students, according to Grinstead.
Dale said Irmo police have a good relationship with the community and are transparent with regard to social media. He said the use of body cameras should improve public trust. Hendricks said the social media is less of a problem in the Irmo area than it is elsewhere.
Other candidates also pointed out the community connections utilized by the department, including National Night Out and an Explorer program, provide positive perceptions. The department has its own Facebook.
Public concerns that have surfaced nationally about police use of firearms is the focus of initial police training, but is a topic that should be continually addressed in training programs that could provide a “refresher” course, according to Dennis, who has been with the department since 2002.
Grinstead, who has been with the department since 2006, said there is no easy answer to using deadly force. It should only happen “if every option is exhausted.” She said community discussions should be held about how citizens can avoid dangerous confrontations.
An announcement on the selection of the new captain is expected to be made by the end of the month.