Police often are viewed as people who give out tickets or make arrests, but Mount Airy officers also play a behind-the-scenes role through a community services unit that recently has undergone changes.
Officer Gerald Daniel has transferred from the patrol division to that unit, filling a vacancy caused by the retirement of Lt. Kelly Hiatt, a veteran member of the Mount Airy Police Department who spent more than 28 years on the force.
“Kelly Hiatt was just a quintessential community police officer,” Police Chief Dale Watson said, “a stakeholder in the community who knew the community very well and served with integrity.”
But Daniel, the new man in Hiatt’s former division who previously logged more than four years as a patrol officer, reflects the same level of commitment, according to the chief.
“He’s gone above and beyond working with the public,” Watson said of Daniel’s patrol activities. “I have heard many accolades on his behalf — he’s just made a positive impact on those who he’s been able to work with.”
The community services unit has four members. They include Daniel along with Ray Arnder and two school resource officers, Stacy Inman and James Simmons. Unlike officers on the street who tend to play a reactive role, community police personnel are more proactive with an emphasis on crime-prevention and similar programs.
They often make presentations to groups such as students and senior citizens to help them avoid being victimized. Efforts to keep prescription drugs out of the wrong hands, including take-back programs, are an example of their recent initiatives. Bike patrols are another part of community police operations.
“There’s so much more opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives,” Daniel said Tuesday regarding those officers’ work. “I had always wanted to do this — but I wanted to spend some time on patrol first.”
Daniel’s move to the community police division was made official last week, and has been accompanied by “shadowing” other members of the unit and undergoing additional training.
With the departure of Hiatt — who said, “I enjoyed all my 28 years and five months that I was there, and I enjoyed serving in the community services division and getting to know a lot about the community” — a bit of reorganization has occurred.
Watson explained that part of the duties of Hiatt — who joined the division in 2005 and replaced Jim Armbrister as its leader in the summer of 2012 — were administrative in nature.
With Hiatt’s retirement, those administrative duties he fulfilled as a lieutenant have been shifted to high-level members of the police department. This means that with Daniel’s appointment, there’s “another community officer on the streets,” Watson said — more manpower to meet the needs of citizens through the unit’s various activities.
Daniel sees one of the main functions of the community services division as making the public aware that law enforcement officers are friends and not foes. He expressed enthusiasm for giving talks to students to help alleviate that stereotype, “especially if they’re afraid of cops.”
Another youth-oriented program involves instructing children about “stranger danger,” which refers to hazards posed to them by adults they don’t know, Daniel said.
He says that same concern exists among community services officers for the public at large.
“We’ve got a real good thing going on right now,” Daniel said, “a good relationship with the community. I just want to do what I can to make it better.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.