SPRING LAKE, N.C. — Cumberland County's sheriff has declared a "war of justice" on what he calls a criminal cell in Spring Lake, following the arrests of nine people in connection with a string of crimes in the community over the past month.
Sheriff Earl Butler assured residents Thursday that he is aggressively enforcing the law and solving cases quickly.
"We're hoping that this is going to send a message to that element out there: 'Hey, if you commit a crime, you're going to be arrested and put in jail,'" Butler said.
Deputies have handled law enforcement for the town since early May, when a judge effectively stripped the Spring Lake Police Department of its remaining powers after the arrests of two supervising officers.
The former chief resigned, and the State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the department.
Residents have since expressed concerns about the sheriff's office ability to provide adequate security for the town.
Some have said they believe crime has spiked.
Last month, an employee at The Donut Connection in Spring Lake was shot and killed during a robbery. Authorities arrested Patrick King, 18, Luis Marquez-Lopez, 19, and Angel Bonilla, 18, in the days following the crime.
Earlier this month, they also arrested April Cox, 20, Ebony Shavonne Jones, 21, and Shontae Daniele Johnson-Forbes, 20, on charges of conspiring to give false information in the Donut Connection case.
Employees at The Mandarin Wok, Crystal Rameriz-Pemberton, 28, and D'Andre Pemberton, 19, face numerous charges, including attempted first-degree murder, in the Aug. 5 attempted robbery at the restaurant. Its owner is recovering after they allegedly shot him in the head.
And deputies on Wednesday arrested Morris Antonio Reid, 46, in connection with at least six convenience store robberies, as well as a Wendy's restaurant.
Investigators are still looking for Reid's son, Morris Antonio Reid Jr., 26.
Since July 20, the sheriff's office has assigned three deputies to patrol Spring Lake around the clock.
Butler said Thursday he does not think crime is more rampant there than anywhere else in the county. Three deputies are adequate, he said, but he said he would prefer having four or five.
"Let me assure you, crime will not be tolerated in Cumberland County, to include the town of Spring Lake," Butler said. "We're getting the job done, and our track record speaks for itself."
The town is paying for the patrols through an open-ended contract until Chief District Judge Elizabeth Keever restores policing powers.
She has ordered that the department complete a thorough evaluation of all employees.
Chapel Hill's former police chief, Gregg Jarvies, was hired to stabilize the department while the town searches for a full-time replacement.