GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) It’s been one year since Paula Dance was elected Pitt County Sheriff.
Being the first woman and African-American to hold the title, she says she felt the pressure. But, within a year, Sheriff Dance has spearheaded several initiatives for the benefit of the county and its residents.
What’s been happening in 2018:
While she was on the campaign trail, Sheriff dance spoke about several topics including transparency between the department and the community.
In order to achieve transparency between the agency and the community, Sheriff Dance felt equipping the officers with body cameras was the answer.
“I feel that it polices the police, it shows the community we have nothing to hide,” said the Sheriff.
She hopes the body cameras will be rolled out at the beginning of the new year.
Another issue Sheriff Dance made an effort to combat is the number of re-occurring inmates at the detention center. Her philosophy is that there are two main reasons for inmates coming in and out: poverty and substance abuse.
With that, the Sheriff’s Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (SHARP) was put in place.
The voluntary program brings in educators, support specialists and faith-based groups to work with the inmates.
Anger management and therapy are also a part of the process in addition to a 12-step process led by Narcotics Anonymous.
After seeing success with SHARP, Sheriff Dance realized the female population at the detention center was also in need of a program.
The Women’s Empowerment Addiction Recovery (WEAR) program was implemented shortly after.
“For both groups, we bring in peer to peer, support people because people who have been on drugs or have had these same issues are the best people to come in and at least share with others what helped them on the road to recovery,” said Sheriff Dance.
Dance says outside groups have seen the success of these programs and have offered their services to be used in the future.
Another initiative is a partnership between the Pitt County Detention Center and Pitt Community College (PCC).
PCC representatives will assess the inmates wanting to get their GED’s and help them navigate their way through classes after leaving the detention center.
“The main goal of all three of those initiatives is actually connecting [the inmates] with the resources on the outside while providing those same resources for them on the inside,” said the Sheriff.
The department applied for and received a $715,000 grant to help combat mental health issues and substance abuse and that grant will give the department the ability to offer even more services.
Sheriff Dance says it is her intent to hire a social worker who will not only be able to provide services but be able to make the connection between the inmates and the recovery resources on the outside.
Looking forward to the future:
Sheriff Dance already has ideas and hopes for 2019.
Beginning next week, students studying for their Ph.D. in counseling at East Carolina University will come in an work with inmates at the detention center and counsel them.
As far as other 2019 plans, Sheriff Dance says they’re working diligently to make the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office a progressive and modern department that officers want to work at.
Departments across the country as well as right here in Pitt County are facing a recruitment downfall.
A drone is on Dance’s wish list for the new year so that the department can use that technology for aid in searches and investigations.
Another big-ticket item would be having the technology to target active shooters in schools if that situation were to occur.
“This technology would actually pinpoint the exact location as to where the shooter is which cuts the time that it would take officers to locate that person,” said Sheriff Dance.
Sheriff Dance did give a disclaimer that only very preliminary discussions have occurred and receiving this technology is not set in stone.
Sheriff Dance on her first year in office:
Sheriff Dance says she is proud to see the sheriff’s office deputies “buying in” to the initiatives the department is working on.
Additionally, she believes the community has had a positive, accepting response to her first year in office.
She says she often gets stopped while out in public and people thank her.
“They elected me to make sure that our community is safe. I have a vested interest in that. I live here, I work here, I play here, I have family here,” said Dance. “So I’m a stakeholder in this community as well.”
She is proud to stand up to the challenges that come her way in the job and will remain strong and willing as long as the people of Pitt County will have her.
“The sheriff has a boss, there’s 180,000 of them. That’s roughly how many people live in Pitt County and I answer to the people. And as long as the people are satisfied and as long as I’m doing what the people want to see get done then that’s just the way it works and the people put me here and I plan on staying here until the people put me out,” said Sheriff Dance with a smile.