Our Opinion: Chief Hopkins set standard for Wilson community policing
Times file photo
Wilson Police Chief Thomas Hopkins, center, talks to Youth Police Academy participants in 2015.
THUMBS UP to Police Chief Thomas Hopkins, who hangs up his badge on Tuesday after more than 11 years as the city’s top lawman and 26 years of distinguished service at the Wilson Police Department.
In his retirement interview with Times reporter Olivia Neeley, Hopkins stressed the value of Wilson’s community-oriented policing philosophy and provided examples of the dividends it’s paid: When children and teenagers face trouble, they turn to police for help. They see the officers who coached them in Police Athletic League day camps as their mentors and advocates, not imposing authority figures who want to catch them on the wrong side of the law.
“A lot of our kids call us before they are about to make bad decisions, or they call us when they are having difficult days, or they call us when they are in trouble,” Hopkins said. “And that’s what we want them to do.”
Under Hopkins’ leadership, Wilson’s PAL program became a national success story, growing from a volunteer initiative within the department to a fully fledged nonprofit auxiliary. But community policing is more than youth outreach.
The philosophy is infused within the department and shows itself in officers’ interactions with people of all ages, whether they’re motorists stopped for a traffic violation, victims or witnesses to a crime or suspects who must be arrested to answer the charges against them.
While not passing judgment on individual police shootings, Hopkins noted a common denominator in cities like Minneapolis and Ferguson, Missouri, where officers’ use of deadly force against unarmed Black men touched off waves of public protest: A breakdown in trust between communities and their law enforcement agencies.
“It troubles me watching television, and I hear that citizens are afraid to be stopped by the police or youth afraid of the police,” Hopkins said. “And it shouldn’t be that way.”
While he’ll no longer wear the badge, Hopkins plans to remain involved in PAL and continue to volunteer with Wilson charities and nonprofits. We salute our chief for his service. He is a credit to Wilson, and with incoming Chief Scott Biddle at the helm, the legacy he built will live on.
THUMBS DOWN to the Wilson City Council for opposing a project that sought to provide transitional housing to nearly homeless older adults by building four tiny homes on a vacant Jordan Street lot.
Council members unanimously voted against a rezoning request for the tiny homes during their May 25 meeting. The project enjoyed support from the Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments — the Center on Maintaining Preferred Aging Services and Solutions, which planned to build the homes, is a nonprofit formed specifically to work in conjunction with the intergovernmental group — and the Five Points Neighborhood Association.
Your elected representatives nixed this worthy effort because they believed four tiny homes would be too cramped on a single-family residential lot. The Wilson Planning and Design Review Board, which is tasked with making such technical judgments, disagreed, recommending approval.
“Four cheap houses is different than one nice house,” Councilman Tom Fyle opined.
The city council didn’t have a choice between four tiny homes and a new single-family house, however. The choice was between tiny homes and nothing.
The 906 Jordan St. lot has sat vacant since 2014. Surrounding properties are valued in the low $40,000s. With construction costs soaring, it’s unrealistic to expect someone will invest a six-figure sum to build that “one nice house” in a location where property value may be difficult to maintain.
Mary Marlin, the Council of Governments’ aging program director, promised “something that fits the fabric of the community.” The new stick-built homes, each on its own foundation, would have to meet state building codes. Regardless of their size, the small houses would have been a welcome addition.
Opposition came not from neighbors, who endorsed the project through their association, but from elected officials who decided their personal preference mattered more than their constituents’ wishes.
We’ve noted in this space before that our council members often seem to believe they know better than the people they represent. “We could use a little more populism and a little less paternalism,” an October 2017 editorial concludes. We echo those words today.
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