Q&A: Capt. Thomas Defends Village's DWI Policies
Capt. Floyd Thomas vehemently denies that the Pinehurst Police Department is too zealous in enforcing traffic laws or that it lies in wait to entrap drunken drivers.
Responding to what he called unfair rumors and allegations, Thomas said the department of Chief Ronnie Davis (who recently announced his pending retirement) receives daily complaints from Pinehurst residents who call to demand that something be done about speeders or drivers running stop signs.
Asked if he thought the department was getting a bum rap, he replied, “I do. I honestly do.”
Thomas was interviewed during the preparation of the news article that begins on the front page of today’s edition of The Pilot. Here is an edited version of his recorded conversation with Senior Writer Tom Embrey and Editor Steve Bouser.
Q: Captain Thomas, we sometimes hear complaints that the Pinehurst police are overzealous in stopping drivers — especially in trying to catch people for DWI. Is there anything to that?
A: As I mentioned in an earlier article, I have instructed officers to be aggressive in their enforcement of the traffic laws. And what I mean by aggressive is: If the officer sees a traffic violation and they can safely stop the vehicle, then they should. If they don’t have a pending call to go to, they should safely stop the vehicle.
Now, it’s up to the officer to determine whether they give a written warning or a verbal warning or if they actually issue a citation. There’s nowhere in any policy or anything that’s ever come down from Chief Davis or myself that you have to write tickets. That is what I have put out to the officers.
Q: Is there some kind of pressure from on high within the village administration to keep the streets safe?
A: No, the pressure comes from the citizens of Pinehurst who call me on a daily basis about, “There are people speeding through here.” Or, “There’s people running a stop sign.”
Q: If I’m driving along hypothetically, and the speed limit is 35 miles and I’m going 40, am I going to get stopped?
A: I would say not unless you’ve done something wrong: illegal lane change, registration’s out, broken tail light at night.
Q: So do you give people, like, nine miles an hour?
A: No, sir. North Carolina law is, if you’re one mile over the limit, you can get a ticket. It’s strictly up to the officer’s discretion to write those. To be quite honest, I don’t think the officers are going to write it for anything under 10 unless there’s something else to go along with that.
You make a traffic stop and somebody running nine miles over the posted speed limit and then you’re going to give them a warning, but you approach them and find out that they’re driving while under the influence. Well, you have that initial stop for speeding, so you’re probably going to get written for the speeding and the DWI. But you have to write for that initial stop.
Q: So do you guys lie in wait for people when you see them go in a restaurant and then when they come out, follow them?
A: No, sir. We have officers that routinely patrol the downtown area, and we get out and shake doors at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning to make sure all the businesses are locked up, so there might be a patrol car down there. We’ve been asked to do foot patrols downtown, so there is a car parked down there once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Evenings, they aren’t parked down there unless there’s something going on. There’s going to be a car or motorcycle parked down there on Thursdays when they have that Live After Five every month. They’ve asked an officer to be there so there will be a car and an officer there while that’s going on.
But to sit there — we’ve specifically told the officers not to do that. I know people have said that’s been done. We had a complaint from a certain business proprietor who said that they took pictures of all the cars lined up. Well, they were lined up at a public service station waiting to go in and fuel up, and the business owner said, ‘They’re waiting over here just to stop people leaving my business,’ which wasn’t true.
Q: Was that a restaurant business?
A: Yes, sir. Once they sent us the picture. OK, what time was the picture taken. Well, it was taken at 6:30 at night or 6:30 in the morning, I forget, but there’s three cars waiting to gas up.
Q: So that was just near a gas station?
A: Yes, where public services are. The guys line up there at the end of the shift to go in. The lieutenant comes and gets the key to the gate to open it up. It probably had to be at nighttime because the public services guys come to work early and it would have been open during the morning shift, so it would have had to have been 6:30 at night.
Q: There have been people in letters saying they were treated rudely or Gestapo-like by the police. What are the policies on that?
A: I think that comes from officers being matter-of-fact about doing their traffic stops. One, the officer’s supposed to identify themselves: “I’m Capt. Floyd Thomas of the Pinehurst Police Department. I need to see your driver’s license and registration. The reason I stopped you was you were speeding 56 in a 35 mile an hour zone.”
That’s what’s supposed to come out of every officer’s mouth every time they stop a car. They get the driver’s license and registration, go back to the car, make a decision about whether you’re going to write a citation. Sometimes people complain it takes too long. Well, you’re in the car, you have to run the driver’s license, you have to run the license plate number, and if they have a history we have to go through all of that.
To speed things up, we don’t hand-write tickets anymore. They’re all electronic citations. So the officer types information in, versus handwriting it, puts a piece of paper in the printer in the car and it comes out and it goes back up. And the officer explains the citation and what they need to do to pay it off or how they can pay it off or if they elect not to pay it off. This is their court date.
People take that as being rude. That’s just what we have to tell them. It’s a professional way of doing things. We don’t want to get in a confrontation with the people out there. The officers can engage in a conversation with the people about the citation, but if it gets dragged on, the officers are to cut it off because you can’t win. That’s the reason there’s a court date there.
Sometimes people want to get out of the car and come back to the patrol car, and we don’t allow that. It’s an officer safety issue; it’s an issue for the citizen. What the Highway Patrol does and what we do are two different things. If they want them to come and sit in the seat with them, that’s what they do, but we don’t do that. And they take that as we’re being curt to them.
Q: Who was chief when you came?
A: Chief [Ernest] Hooker was the chief when I first arrived.
Q: And it was under his regime that people said we don’t write very many tickets?
A: That’s what my supervisor at the time told me. I never got that from Chief Hooker.
Q: There seems to be a feeling that things have increased a lot with the change in administration.
A: I would say it probably has. Part of that is me telling the officers to be aggressive in their enforcement. And for three years, we had a two-man traffic team, and that’s what they focused on. Since we don’t have the traffic team anymore, things have gotten back to where they were before.
Q: Do you think Pinehurst issues significantly more tickets or stops more people per capita than other towns?
A: I haven’t looked at any other towns, so I don’t know. What we are, we are the largest town in Moore County now, yet we have the smallest police department. We’re issuing more tickets? I don’t know. I know that Aberdeen has a full-time traffic team, and we don’t anymore. So I can’t understand the focus of why it’s always Pinehurst. I know Southern Pines issues tickets; I know Aberdeen issues tickets.
Q: Of course, one thing people say is that nothing else happens in Pinehurst, so there’s not that much crime, so there’s more focus on the traffic.
A: Well, we have 110 miles of roadway in the village, and if everybody’s here I’ve got five people to cover 110 miles of roadway. Plus most of that is within the residential area, so the guys are in the residential areas like they’re supposed to be. If you’ve driven U.S. 15/501 from the Traffic Circle going toward Aberdeen, or if you’ve driven Morganton Road and 211, you know you can get out there any day at any point in time and write tickets all day long. I mean, it’s like shootin’ fish in a barrel.
Q: Because there’s so many people breaking the law?
A: There’s so many people breaking the law.
Q: Do you think you’re getting a bum rap on this thing — what people are saying about your department?
A: I do. I honestly do. And it makes the officers — you know, it’s not good for moral. They’re doing what citizens of Pinehurst have asked them to do, and that’s enforce the traffic laws. I can’t overemphasize, I get complaints all the time about speeders. My stance is that we’re going to do what we have to do to slow people down and enforce the traffic laws. If you’re driving drunk in the village, out driving while impaired, we’re not going to turn a blind eye to that kind of stuff.
Q: Was there one of your officers who wrote the most tickets in the state?
A: No, that’s just ludicrous. I do think we’re getting a bum rap. We’ve got nothing to hide. If people want to complain, if they’ve got a problem with an individual officer, they need to come see me or the chief, and we’ll look into it.
Can I brag just a little bit? In 2006 we won the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Small Agency Officer of the Year award; in 2007 we won the MADD award from the state for a small agency; and for the last four years we’ve won the AAA award. We got a grant for the two traffic team members; we got money and a car that was paid for by the state. We’ve done a lot to promote the village by doing stuff like that, and I just don’t see where everybody’s coming from.
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