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A day in the life of an SMPD officer

The Signal Mountain Town Council recently passed an ordinance that allows recreational rock climbing on private property, with hope, based on comments from council members, that climbing may someday be allowed on public property as well.

The discussions leading up to the decision, however, prompted worry that if climbing were allowed on both public and private property, the town’s emergency resources might be drained.

Town of Signal Mountain Police Chief Boyd Veal said he was one who advocated for the Council to allow climbing only on private property for the time being.

“Anytime you have a steep-angle rescue operation, they are very manpower- and time-intensive. They are not quick and easy fixes,” he said. “At this point that was the wise thing to do.”

Of the town’s 16 sworn officers, Veal said any given three are typically on duty at one time. The town’s police officers must learn to be a jack of all trades, patrolling neighborhoods, checking in on businesses, working traffic enforcement and answering any calls for service that come in. The day-to-day duties vary and no officer has one area they focus on every day, Veal said.

The officers are now also patrolling the newly annexed areas of the Windtree and Fox Run subdivisions, which came into the town limits at the beginning of the year. A new population count is ongoing, but the annexation did add approximately 250 homes.

“The thing we ask for from our officers, and we talk to them about it from the very beginning, is we are looking for a well-rounded officer,” said Veal.

However, speeding drivers remain a steady complaint from residents, thus causing traffic enforcement to take up a good part of officers’ time, he added. The Police Department tries to respond to areas that have the most complaints, and James Boulevard and Timberlinks are consistently problematic, said Veal.

“It’s constantly changing as to where we are focused based on where we get the complaints,” he said. “Though I don’t know that there are a lot of areas that don’t have some problem.”

Veal said he assigns officers to particular areas to run radar based on complaints, but he denied the practice of speed trapping in the town. He added that he advised the town years ago against implementing too many different speed limits along Taft Highway so as to be fair to drivers.

“My officers, to my knowledge, don’t go hide behind billboards and position themselves to clock speeders. Hiding and trying to do it doesn’t make any sense,” Veal said. “At least from an administrative point of view, our goal is to dispel that notion. Our job is to keep the roadways safe.”

Also at the top of the Police Department’s priority list is the Mountain Arts Community Center’s property that was stolen in mid-November. The investigation is ongoing, but so far there are no leads and not a lot to go on, Veal said.

“Property crimes are very difficult to work. You have to have a relentless approach to it,” he noted. “There are so many different options out there for people to move property. It is still on the front burner with all the different things we have going on.”

Officers have been checking in on pawn shops and flea markets, and MACC Director Barb Storm said the police officers have increased their presence around the facility, especially at night and in the early morning.

“We are very grateful for the police presence and monitoring of our building,” said Storm. “Since the first break-in, we got a video surveillance system so that people going in and out of the MACC are constantly being recorded. We’ve tried to make sure every item worth something is locked behind an interior door to make it as secure as possible.”

According to Veal, though the number of property crimes remains low in the town, they are still one of Signal Mountain’s major issues. In 2011, there were 42 burglaries involving either residences or theft of a vehicle, and in 2012 there were 43.

“Generally, you’ll have an individual or group that will target a particular area and then they move on. The longer they operate in an area the more likely they are to get caught,” he said. “But we have very good patrol coverage. If you drive around Signal Mountain at all you’ll likely come across a police officer.”

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