SPRING LAKE, N.C. — Some business owners in Spring Lake believe crime has increased since the city’s police department was shut down in May.
“Nobody feels safe here anymore,” said David Lopez, owner of American Glass and Window.
Spring Lake officers aren't allowed to investigate crimes or respond to 911 calls since a judge stripped the department of its police powers on May 6, following the arrests of two supervising officers on corruption charges. The Cumberland County Sheriff's deputies took over the law enforcement duties for the town.
Lopez believes crime has spiked since May.
Lopez was at the Mandarin Wok restaurant, 247 Skyland Plaza, on Thursday cleaning up a window shattered during an attempted armed robbery the night before.
Mandarin Wok owner Xiao Zhang was grazed by a bullet in the incident. Employees said this was the second robbery attempt in the past two weeks.
“You just see characters you’ve never seen before,” Lopez said.
Lopez said he’s been more vigilant for himself and his neighboring merchants. He said he looks out for the guy next door: “Now, when it’s late, I’m trying to get him out of his business because I’m not gonna stay late, and I don’t want him to stay late by himself.”
Maurice Barnwell, who owns Mohawk Janitorial Services, said all business owners in town have to be more vigilant.
“When I come in at two in the morning, I look around before I open the door,” Barnwell said.
After the judge shut down police operations, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office assigned four deputies per shift to the town. That arrangement ended July 1, when negotiations to reimburse the county fell through.
On July 28, the Spring Lake Board of Alderman approved a contract to allow the deputies to patrol the town again.
The decision came two days after 66-year-old Rashed Rai was shot and killed at the Donut Connection, where he worked, as his sister and a customer watched. Patrick King, 18, and Luis Marquez-Lopez, 19, face charges of first-degree murder, armed robbery and conspiracy in the robbery.
Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Debbie Tanna said there has not been a greater volume of calls in Spring Lake since the police department shut down. Crime is no more rampant there than anywhere else in the county, she said.
“I don’t want the public to get the perception that it is a bad community – it’s not,” Tanna said.
Tanna said all the attention given to Spring Lake losing its police force may have given criminals the wrong impression. “This sent a message out to the criminal element that it was open season if you wanted to commit a crime in this town,” she said.
Under the new open-ended contract with the sheriff’s office, three deputies per shift will be assigned to Spring Lake. The deputies will be in addition to two others who already patrol a zone in the surrounding area.
“So at any given time, we could have five deputies in that community if we needed it,” Tanna said.
Two other deputies from another nearby patrol zone could also be called in to respond to a major crime in Spring Lake.
This would be more coverage than the police department provided with its four officers per shift, Tanna said.
“We are solving crimes there and we are protecting citizens of that community,” Tanna said. “They have no reason to be afraid.”
Tanna said it is not clear what happened at Mandarin Wok on Wednesday night. The restaurant will reopen Friday.