Black Mountain police chief talks issues with policing, increase in property crimes

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Steve Parker, the Black Mountain police chief, talks with Mayor Larry Harris at a meet and greet on Nov. 9, the day after he was sworn in.

Steve Parker has a vision for policing in Black Mountain.

The town's new police chief discussed annual crime statistics, use of force in policing, goals for his new position and emphasized the importance of professionalism and properly training his officers. 

Parker was sworn in as the new police chief at the Nov. 8 Black Mountain Town Council meeting. 

The statistics were divided into violent crimes — armed robbery, murder and assault — and property crimes, including burglaries, collisions and larceny.

In the past year, Black Mountain listed just six violent crimes. While the town's violent crime rate has remained more or less constant over the past three years, property crime increased by 60%.

Black Mountain saw a 184% increase in collisions in the past two years, from 74 to 209. 

"It's kind of the COVID effect," Parker said. "We're seeing property crime across the country go up."

The police chief said he suspects the increase in property crime and collisions is a byproduct of the pandemic. He said he's witnessed an increase in narcotic-related incidents, a factor, he said, that influences property crimes. 

Although the town numbers do not indicate an increase in narcotic incidents, Parker said due to temporary staffing issues related to the pandemic, the police department hasn't been as proactive in making arrests to go on file. He said the department has recently seen multiple Narcan saves and overdoses.

"We know that it exists, but our numbers don't necessarily support it based on low staffing numbers," Parker said.  

At his former position in Tega Cay, South Carolina, Parker said he primarily dealt with drugs, including fentanyl and heroin, and mental health crises. By mental health, Parker said suicide, disorientation and "general crises" number among the areas he wants to focus on for the Black Mountain department.

Police brutality, de-escalation and dealing with mental health crises

"If they have to use force and it's appropriate force, I will make sure as a police chief that we deal with it accordingly," Parker said. "But if someone uses excessive force, then I will also deal with that accordingly, because we don't tolerate excessive force." 

The new chief said the impact of modern media has altered community perception of law enforcement. He emphasized the need for training in crisis situations so as to avoid instances of brutality or misconduct. 

With instances of police brutality exhibited around the country, Parker said he cannot guarantee something like that would never happen in Black Mountain. He said as with any position, personnel are trained and prepared but in dealing with crises on a daily basis, acting appropriately can be challenging. 

"Obviously, you want to say that'll never happen, but it's kind of giving a false hope," he said. 

Active shooters, a hostile community and mental health situations, Parker said, need to be dealt with properly. Properly preparing the department will help officers act professionally, according to the police chief. 

To combat instances of misconduct, Parker said the department is engaging in "biased-based profiling" training and how to properly deal with mental health crises. 

The best way to deal with precarious situations, in Parker's opinion, includes not allowing one's emotions to rise up and instead bring a tense individual down to a level of calm. Parker said how people are treated and speaking professionally can be powerful tools for officers. 

"The horrible acts of a handful of police officers have created an impression that all law enforcement is not professional," Parker said. "We need to train for everything all the time."

Black Mountain Police officers stand outside a Town Council meeting on Aug. 9 after anti-mask protestors were removed from the meeting for refusing to comply with the town's mandate.

Diversity, retention and the racial makeup of the Black Mountain department

The Black Mountain Police Department consists of 21 officers, 20 of which are male, and "appears to be mostly white," according to Parker.

"Diversity recruitment is going to be a big deal for me," Parker said. "They say that you want to try to mirror the population that you serve." 

The census breakdown of Parker's former residence of Tega Cay has many similarities to Black Mountain. At roughly 10,000, the population is not much higher than the Black Mountain population of 8,144. Like Black Mountain, Tega Cay also holds a female majority and an exact racial makeup match of 89% white. 

In a less diverse community, Parker said diverse applications are infrequent. 

Although the Black Mountain department is nearly fully staffed, Parker said retention remains one of his goals. He said maintaining a full staff depends on morale and pay equalization. 

To fully train and onboard a new staff member, Parker said "it's almost like throwing away $100,000 for a new person." Rather than going through the expensive and lengthy process of bringing on a new member to the force, Parker said he'd prefer to invest the money that would've been spent in retaining the officers already employed. 

"It's always a revolving door with law enforcement," Parker said, in reference to retention. 

Relationship with the community and accreditation

One of the goals of his new position, Parker said, is to establish trust between the community and the police department. He aims to do so through building trust with the youth in the area, bonding with schools and enhancing the cadet program to show the specifics of law enforcement to those interested in learning more. 

New to the area, Parker said he hasn't seen distrust between the community and the department but aims to enhance programs already in place. 

The chief said he hasn't seen any warning signs of potential misconduct within his department. He said the department is actively working to become accredited through North Carolina's law enforcement accreditation program. 

Accreditation would allow for the department to be reviewed in the actions of police officers as well as departmental policies to ensure the department is behaving accordingly and professionally, according to Parker. 

"When you have one bad apple, it makes us all look bad," he said.