Since being named Chief of the Hillsville Police Department on Dec. 1 of last year, Greg Bolen has instituted many changes, most aimed at making the force more efficient and cost effective.
Among some of the more recent moves has been a structure change within the department. Several officers have been promoted or transferred to new positions, including Junior Alderman, who is now the Captain, second in command behind the Chief.
“He is second in command over patrol and investigations. If I am out of town or unavailable, he is the man,” Bolen said. “He steps in and oversees the operations.”
Robby Martin has moved up to the rank of 1st Sergeant. Martin is the first line of supervision of the patrol division, Bolen said, overseeing the day-to-day operations of patrols.
Alan Gravley has also taken over the Investigations Department. He will handle any criminal investigation HPD works.
“Captain Alderman is working with him to groom him and help him get acclimated with that new position,” Bolen said. “Junior is going to be helping out with that as well as being Captain with his patrol duties and his new administrative duties.”
Jason Hawks has moved into the position of Sergeant. Hawks will be working with the patrol division and will also be charged with devising a plan to improve the vehicle quality within the department.
“We are going to have monthly inspections of the vehicles and Sgt. Hawks will be over that, making sure all vehicle records are kept up,” Bolen said. “We have created a spreadsheet to keep up with the mileage, repairs, and those kinds of things. This way we can see exactly which vehicle is giving us more problems or we are having to work on more. It’s another way we are trying to run the department in a more efficient manner.”
All the personnel changes went into effect July 1, Bolen said, and have been a positive within the police department and the community.
“The morale here in the department has improved. It’s moving people into key positions where they will thrive in those positions and do the best job, I feel, for the department,” Bolen said.
Bolen said there was no inventory list within the department when he took over as chief. Since May, everything within the police department has been inventoried, and HPD is now looking to surplus several items.
“We are going to surplus several items to get rid of them because they are doing us no good. They are basically taking up space and we can get money for that from another department,” he said.
Among items to surplus include two vehicles - an electric car and a mobile command post - which Bolen said have no viable use except for once a year during the Labor Day Flea Market. The electric car alone takes six batteries to operate, each with a cost of $200 to replace.
“In order to save money and relieve some of the burden on the taxpayers and our budget, we are going to surplus those two items and we hope to get enough out of those two vehicles to purchase another 4-wheel drive vehicle for use in the winter time and everyday patrol,” Bolen said. “Sgt. Hawks will also be the inventory specialist for the department, keeping track of all inventory and declaring items surplus. We are inventorying everything from furniture in the building to uniforms on the officers’ backs. When I first came here I preached accountability over actions and everything else. Accountability is what we are going to have, even for the equipment, and I think this will help lessen the burden on taxpayers.”
Some of the new things Bolen has added to the police department include foot patrols during the day on Main Street and at Hillsville’s shopping centers. The foot patrols help officers become more acquainted with business owners, he said, and keeps them in touch with the community’s needs. Foot patrols are also now being conducted in high-call volume areas within the town, including some local apartment complexes that are recurring problem areas.
“We’re doing foot patrols in those areas not only to serve as a deterrent, but just so people can see us. It makes the residents feel better if they look out their windows 9:30 at night and there is an officer doing a foot patrol,” Bolen said. “We have flashlights lit up. We are not sneaking around. We want people to see that we are out walking these places. It has actually decreased several of our calls that we usually get during the year.”
Business checks are also being conducted for town merchants, with officers checking windows and doors for security. HPD will occasionally leave business cards under doors so business owners know they are being looked after.
“It helps give them peace of mind,” Bolen said.
The biggest thing the department has initiated under Bolen’s leadership is what he calls proactive patrols. Proactive patrols means the department is out in high-call volume areas where wrecks and incidents of reckless driving and speeding are most common.
“Through these proactive patrols, it’s actually increased response times of officers getting to calls dramatically and it’s also increased more people getting caught if we get calls,” Bolen said. “Case in point, we had a call a while back with the substitute bus driver (arrested for drunk driving). Billy (Anauo) was in the area doing his proactive patrols, being out and hitting those areas. We got a call and he was able to be there within just a matter of 30 seconds I believe.”
Bolen has also been working to institute better training, giving the officers the needed tools to do their job. He said he’s sent several officers to different schools, such as field training and firearms instruction, and those that have been promoted to supervisory positions will be attending management schools.
“Everybody has room for improvement, including the chief,” Bolen said. “I’ve also set up a network system through other chiefs of police in the state to bounce ideas off them, get suggestions to better run our departments.”
Bolen said one of the biggest things HPD has improved on has been its communications with citizens, town workers and town council. It has accomplished that goal largely through its Facebook page, launched earlier this year.
“Through this Facebook page, it helped us solve two major missing person cases as well as 12 property crimes. I can’t say enough about that,” Bolen said. “We receive tips, comments, suggestions…it is a community pipeline to let us know what is going on. Through that Facebook page I think people communicate with me that otherwise wouldn’t pick up the phone and call.”
Cutting the police department’s budget and line items has been another big emphasis for Bolen. By retooling the work schedule and creating new shifts, he said the department’s overtime budget has been cut almost 85%.
“I’ve created a couple of different shifts that overlap and it helps with daytime coverage and nighttime coverage during the busiest times. That has proved really effective,” Bolen said. “Right now we are enjoying probably our lowest property crime rate in 10 years.”
Among future plans Bolen has for HPD is a bike patrol. Not only does he call it a great public relations tool, he said it helps improve patrols of certain neighborhoods. Bike patrols are also in the works for special events such as parades, flea markets and downtown celebrations. The chief is waiting on training for officers to roll out the program, but he hopes to have it ready to go by the Labor Day Flea Market.
Bolen said the department is also coming up with better patrol strategies. Examples include increasing HPD’s visibility to citizens and going out on crime prevention patrols.
“Once a month the officer will be riding through a neighborhood, stopping, going house-to-house, door-to-door, distributing crime prevention literature,” Bolen said. “They will offer tips and ways to prevent crime, and we’ll be asking citizens if they have any concerns.”
Bolen has also worked to set up trainings for active shooter situations in school settings.
“After Sandy Hook, I would rather be prepared than caught off-guard, so we have several training sessions with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office that will be coming soon,” he said.
Bolen also plans to set up a Citizens’ Advisory Board for citizens to meet quarterly and discuss concerns and ideas with the police department. The meetings can also help educate the community about the things HPD does, he added. An Open House is also being planned for the near future.
“Community input is key to improvement to a police department,” Bolen said. “We don’t claim to be perfect, but we serve the community. The motto we have on our cards is ‘We exist to serve the community,’ and that is true. We have got bigger cost-effective measures for the department as a whole. We are providing the best services that we possibly can for this town with this department. The citizens deserve that. I also couldn’t ask for better support than that I have received from Mayor Crowder, town council, and the town manager. Their help and input has proved to be invaluable to me during difficult times.”