BY COREY DAVIS
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Repeat violent offenders and large drug traffickers across Eastern North Carolina were put on notice Monday during a joint press conference by law enforcement agencies in the Twin Counties, surrounding area and federal law enforcement at the Helen P. Gay Rocky Mount Historic Train Station.
U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr. announced a new initiative through the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina called “Take Back North Carolina” to combat violent and drug crime in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The initiative will bring the full weight and resources of the federal court system to the fight against crime in those counties in partnership with district attorney’s offices and federal, state and local law enforcement.
The news conference in Rocky Mount focused on Nash, Edgecombe, Wilson and Pitt counties. There was a second news conference Monday as the “Take Back North Carolina” initiative also concentrated on Lenoir, Wayne and Greene counties.
Participating agencies that are partnering with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina include the Nash County Sheriff’s Office, Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office, Rocky Mount Police Department, Nashville Police Department, Tarboro Police Department, Spring Hope Police Department, Sharpsburg Police Department and a host of other surrounding and federal agencies.
“What I want to put out here is these crimes of repeat offenders from guns, gangs and drugs affects our schools and our communities,” Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said. “The people that are doing these crimes are put on notice that we don’t want to surprise you and get you. We’re telling you that we’re coming after you.”
Higdon said his office has met with local law enforcement officials in the past couple months to target people who are the “real” people driving the crime, leading the drug organizations and who are the main violent criminals in a particular neighborhood or area.
“We want people to know that federal court adds a different layer of tools for law enforcement,” Higdon said. “The worst of the worst offenders oftentimes can be and need to be brought to federal courts so we can close the revolving door of criminal activity. We can really clamp down on those criminal organizations that they’re part of and we really have to do that in federal court. You have long sentences that you can turn into leverage to get people to cooperate and eliminate those organizations.”
Hidgon said FBI uniform crime statistics show Rocky Mount’s number of violent crimes committed per 100,000 people far exceeds the national rate at 435. Hidgon added that number places Rocky Mount very high on the national list of some of the most dangerous cities in the United States.
“As I sit with local law enforcement, they tell me this hasn’t gone down and the numbers are always lagging,” Hidgon said. “They say it’s going up and that’s why we’re tackling it right now. We will not stand back and let crime rates continue to rise in this district.”
Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said Rocky Mount’s interim police chief has extended resources to Nash and Edgecombe counties, while he and Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson are 100 percent committed to helping reduce violent crime in Rocky Mount and throughout the Twin Counties.
“I understand there is a lot of talk about our city being one of the most dangerous cities in North Carolina,” Stone said. “I have been in other cities the same size and there, a lot of that goes on, too. But we’ve gotten a bad rap for that. But I will tell you the commitment with the chief, Nash County Sheriff’s Office, Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office and the committment from the federal government are that we’re working to reduce it even more.”
The initiative also will focus on the alarming level of opioid use and the deaths associated with it.
Higdon said the State Bureau of Investigation reported in 2017 that three people died of drug overdoses each day in North Carolina, which is also the leading cause of death for many Americans under 50.
“Many Americans are living with this daily struggle of addiction, and sadly the Eastern North Carolina District isn’t immune from this problem,” he said. “Opioid-related death rates are higher in Eastern North Carolina than the rest of the state.”