SP Police Chief Leaves Legacy of Accomplishments
When John Letteney accepted the job of Southern Pines Police Chief seven years ago, he saw plenty of opportunity.
He remembers pulling into the parking lot of the old police station, which at the time was in the public works building to meet with Town Manager Reagan Parsons.
"We went into an office that hadn't been used," Letteney said. "There was furniture in there, but nothing else. It was like starting fresh for me and for the department."
Today is Letteney's last with the department. Monday he will assume a similar position with the Apex Police Department. As he looks back, he said he is proud of the achievements the department has made since he arrived in 2005.
"I have not yet worked with a more dedicated staff of community servants that genuinely go out and try to make a positive difference each and every day," Letteney said.
Under the leadership of the 51-year-old Letteney, who has more than 30 years in law enforcement, the Southern Pines Police Department has achieved plenty of milestone moments and has positioned itself, Letteney said, to serve its residents successfully for years to come.
Many of his initiatives have focused on the department's interaction with the community, or community policing, as a way ultimately to make the community safer.
Under his leadership the department reached out to the community in a variety of ways, including a more interactive Facebook page for the department and becoming the first local department to participate in NIXLE, an online alert program that allows residents to sign up for breaking news releases sent out by the department.
As an extension of the NIXLE program, the department also added Quick Response (QR) code decals to police cars. The decals, when scanned, link smartphones to the department's Facebook page. That page contains updates on crimes and a link to the department's website.
Community policing, he said, has been part of his fiber long before recently becoming buzzwords in law enforcement. "I don't see another way to serve the community without being part of the community," he said.
West Southern Pines resident and community leader Dorothy Brower said Letteney's "hands-on" approach to building community relations is one of his strongest assets
"He and the members of his department, including his leadership team, have been very open to hearing our concerns," Brower said. "There has not been a time when I have called him that I didn't get a call back."
Brower recalled attending a community watch meeting and a woman standing up and speaking about issues important to her.
"I think it was her first meeting, and she made her comments, and then said, 'I just want to be able to talk to the police chief.' He (Letteney) was sitting there, and when she finished, he stood up and said, 'I am the police chief and I would be glad to talk to you.' Then at the end of the meeting they got together and talked."
Brower said another thing she and others in the community appreciated about Letteney was his taking an active role in community events, raising money for charities and always representing the department in a positive light.
And while the department has worked hard externally to strengthen its bond with the community, it has also worked diligently to improve itself internally.
Under Letteney's leadership, the Southern Pines Police Department has earned an advanced accreditation award from the Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).
CALEA standards address all aspects of an agency's adminstration operations and training.
The chief said it was his goal from the beginning to set the department on the path to accreditation.
"When I came here I knew it was a well-run department with good community support from the council and the administration, and was also known as a very professional department," Letteney said. "But I also learned through my research that there were some crime issues that needed to be addressed.
"(Accreditation) was a system that I felt would be the best to professionalize the department, and be something that would outlive all of us."
When Letteney arrived, the department was housed in a cramped, 7,000- square-foot space in the Public Works building on Service Road. It was a less than ideal place, in terms of safety and efficiency, Letteney said. Four-plus years later, the department, in June 2010, moved into a new, $8.5 million building on Pennsylvania Avenue
The 30,000-square-foot building features a two-story design that steps down to a single floor in the rear of the building. The building includes a large training area for officers and other safety personnel, meeting rooms, a state-of-the-art communication center, a centralized server site, and a conference room that doubles as an emergency command center.
It also features an environmentally friendly design, and is anticipated to meet the department's growth needs for years to come.
"It not only helped with morale," Letteney said. "But the new facility allowed us to serve the community in a much safer, more efficient way."
Letteney also was visible in the community, being part of numerous fundraisers including the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics and the Dancing With the Sandhills Stars, an event to raise money for local organizations. He also served as the president of the Southern Pines Rotary Club this year.
Being involved in the community has been easy for Letteney, because he said he has a great affinity for the town and its residents.
"As I have said, I have mixed feelings about leaving," Letteney said. "I am not just leaving a job, I am leaving a community full of friends with a great town staff and a great police department staff. There are very, very few places I would leave Southern Pines for.
"I want to say thank you to everyone for letting me be a part of all the great things in this community and I hope, when all is said and done, that we've made a difference and made the lives of all the residents a little bit better."
The feeling is mutual, said Southern Pines Mayor David McNeill.
"I've told him that his role here will now link him to Southern Pines, and likewise, Southern Pines will always be part of his personal and professional life," McNeill said.
"Chief Letteney can be proud, as we are, of all that he and his department have accomplished."
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or tembrey@ thepilot.com.
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