Chief: Drugs driving crime wave

Published 8:43 am Friday, January 30, 2009

FRANKLIN—With a recent rash of violent crime in the city, Police Chief Phil Hardison has his hands full.

However, Hardison took time this week to visit with The Tidewater News about some of the biggest issues affecting law enforcement in Franklin.

“Franklin is a unique community. We have a little bit of everything happening here,” Hardison said.

He listed high rates of unemployment, high school dropouts and teen pregnancy as contributors to the crime rate in the city.

However, Hardison thinks the biggest problem the city faces is its drug traffic.

“The most prevalent and complex issue is the drug demand and drug sales within the city.”

The 20-year law enforcement veteran said he was not surprised by Franklin’s issues when he took the job as chief in 2004.

“I worked in Franklin as an undercover operative, so I had a very real perspective of some of the problems I would be facing,” he said. “But I knew that we could develop and build relationships and trust with the community we serve; then we would have the ability to meet the challenges head on.”

Hardison readily acknowledges problems with illegal activity and violent crime in Franklin, but he said steps are being made to control it.

“We are continuously trying to support the public to the best extent possible. Our main priority is to provide a safe community for our stakeholders to live in.

“In terms of crime prevention, we continuously reach out by providing programs on crime prevention, gang awareness and drug awareness.”

Hardison also said the Police Department strives to provide venues or opportunities for younger people to communicate on a social level with police officers at a time absent of crisis.

“This interaction helps them establish more solid relationships with the officers and can prove to be a crime deterrent,” he said.

Asked if he thought there were areas where he and his staff could improve, Hardison said: “Given the resources we have, I am confident our members are doing everything they can do. These people have a unique commitment to the citizens and the city.”

Hardison said that the police officers in Franklin are some of the most dedicated people he’s ever met.

“My officers work without complaint and rarely fail to perform. That’s not to say we don’t make mistakes. We do. But I could not ask my people to do any more than they already have.”

Hardison said he emphasizes the importance of providing good service and building trust in the community to his officers. He said it’s an important element of being a police officer because the best crime deterrent in any city is its citizens and their relationship with law enforcement.

“It’s important to me that my officers are seen as problem solvers. I stress to them that we are here to service the citizens, who are stakeholders of this community,” he said.

“Police officers should have the mind-set of ‘What can I do for you?’ Citizens generally come to us because they are in crisis. We may not be able to change the circumstances but I want people to know that from the point we arrive, we will take good care of them and their families,” Hardison said.

Hardison said that this type of attitude is what builds trust in the community. Once that trust is established, Hardison believes, the citizens will work with law enforcement to help prevent crime.

“The citizens then decide what type of standards they want to set for their community. Citizens must first determine what they don’t want in their communities. With a trusting relationship, citizens are going to call the police every single time they see something happening in their neighborhoods,” he said.

“Citizens have far more influence of law enforcement services than I think they realize. We want them to light our phones up and make it difficult for criminals to operate in Franklin. Once they see somebody’s paying attention, they will be forced to go somewhere else,” said Hardison.

Hardison said the Franklin Police Department is three officers short of its budgeted allocation.

But while he needs the officers, he said he won’t hire just anyone.

“I fully anticipate we will be at full staff by the end of this year. But we will only select, hire and retain those who reflect our core values of honor and integrity,” he said.

“It’s important also that new hires also reflect that they generally have the citizens’ best interest at heart. This is a very dangerous job. It takes a unique personality to be willing to stand in the fray of a criminal’s bullet and protect a citizen. I only want officers in this city who are willing to do that.”

Hardison said citizens should be concerned about events in the city of late, but he believes that crime in Franklin can be controlled.

“Citizens should be vigilant, but it is the role of local police to provide enforcement, and we are committed to doing that.”