Black Mountain hires new police chief

Shawn Freeman will take on role after holding the same position in Beech Mountain

Fred McCormick

There are more than a few similarities between the towns of Beech Mountain and Black Mountain. They both occupy 6.7 square miles and have small year-round populations that increase during tourist season.

Warm months bring visitors to Black Mountain for outdoor activities like hiking. Winter brings as many as thousands of people to Beech Mountain to ski the slopes of the resort that shares the town's name.

The town have a new similarity in Shawn Freeman, who after two and a half years of serving as Beech Mountain police chief was named Black Mountain’s chief of police May 4, concluding the town's four-month search to replace Steve Padgett, who retired as chief in November.

Shawn Freeman will be leaving his position as Beech Mountain police chief to take the same role with the Black Mountain Police Department on May 18.

More than 50 applicants submitted resumes for the position, according to town manager Matt Settlemyer, responsible for filling the position.

“I felt like he could step right into this position here without any trouble,” Settlemyer said of the 45-year-old Freeman, whose first official day at work in Black Mountain is May 18.

Freeman’s commitment to community policing stood out among the applicants, Settlemyer said.

“We take that same approach here,” Settlemyer said. “Our goal is to be proactive and address issues before they become problems.”

Freeman, an Air Force veteran of Desert Shield/Desert Storm, started his police career with community policing in Morganton. Community policing is a new - and old - way of policing effectively by having officers know the residents and communities they're serving.

Community police was a "relatively new concept" when Freeman started in law enforcement about 1998,” he said (he stayed with the Morganton Police Department until 2007).  As a young officer, Freeman took a proactive approach to policing.

“I was placed on the side of town with low-income housing areas and areas with increased drug activity,” he said. “I went out and bought my own business cards and every week I picked a street and went door-to-door on foot, introducing myself.”

The initial response to Freeman’s efforts were mixed. “Some reactions were good, some weren’t,” he recalled. But over time, he broke down many of the barriers he initially faced.

Shawn Freeman's commitment to community policing helped him stand out in a pool of 50 applicants for the Black Mountain police chief position, according to town manager Matt Settlemyer.

“People began talking to me and feeling comfortable with me,” he said.

In 2007 there was an opening on the department in Bald Head Island, a village located in Brunswick County on an island off coast of N.C. The Connelly Springs native applied for the police commander/lieutenant position and, after his interview, got a call offering him the job while he was on the ferry leaving the island.

He quickly surmised the police department there wasn't thought of highly.

"I sent 900 surveys out to all of the property owners," he said, "and out of that, we got about 500 back. Some of those had very honest feedback, which we analyzed.”

Under Freeman's guidance, the department began doing "minor things,” he said, such as giving the public opportunities for question and answer sessions and making it a point to wave at citizens. Freeman also borrowed from his experience in Morganton.

“We started assigning community police officers. And we would go door-to-door,” he said. “We had multiple officers doing this, building a rapport with residents.”

In 2014, Freeman had an opportunity to advance his law enforcement career when the Beech Mountain chief of police position became available. The situation he inherited gave him a strong base on which to build, he said.

“Luckily here in Beech Mountain the foundation was really strong. We just needed maybe a breath of fresh air,” he said. “I like to give credit to my staff, so I just came in and gave these guys an avenue to do their jobs more effectively. And that’s what they did.”

When Freeman’s wife spotted an opening for the same position in Black Mountain, it gave them an opportunity to be closer to where his career began.

“Being from Morganton, years ago, we would take day trips and go to Black Mountain and walk around,” he said. “We really like this area.”

Freeman believes his experience dealing with diverse groups of people in towns driven by tourism helps him understand the community he is coming into.

“I think being able to talk to different types of people from all over the United States," he said, "and being able to listen, understand and hear people’s concerns while being able to work with them on solutions is what I bring to the table.”