It’s rare to see an organization grow by leaps and bounds and still maintain its small-town feel. But since Steve Williams took over as Police Chief on April 16, 2001, that is exactly what the Hillsville Police Department has been able to do over the past 10 years.
Utilizing grant funds and donations to increase its force and equipment, the Hillsville Police Department has also maintained its small-town feel by doing the little things such as unlocking keys from cars at no charge to residents and improving popular programs geared at safety for seniors. Williams said he couldn’t ask for anything more.
“I think I’ve got the best job anywhere. For a kid that all he ever wanted to do was be a police officer, to be the police chief in the town he was born and grew up in is just really cool,” Williams said. “I absolutely love it.”
For the first time in its history, HPD has a building of its own on Main Street in Hillsville. With the recent annexation of the Town of Hillsville, the department also has new territory and more officers than ever before.
“That was part of the long-range plan,” Williams said. “We had been planning for years to add some additional officers so we could provide the same coverage with the new area as we had in the existing part without taking away from what everybody else had grown accustomed to.”
When Williams started just 10 years ago with HPD, the department had just two computers. Thanks to grants, there is now a desktop computer at every workstation in the department, a printer and a copier, all paid for through grant funds requiring just small local matches. New radios are in each police vehicle and each officer has a personal radio — all funded through grants.
The parking lot has been repaved and doubled in size, also through grants, while an old ambulance from the dissolved Hillsville Rescue Squad was painted and converted into a mobile command center through grants. The speed trailer with radar displays set up periodically through town also didn’t cost the taxpayers any money.
Williams has also been able to upgrade the department through creativity. For instance, old weapons and firearms seized through drug forfeitures were exchanged straight up for new firearms and holsters without any cost to local citizens. It also recently leased four new cars, something the department has never done, instead of buying a new vehicle every year. At the end of the four years, the town will be able to buy the cars for $1 each, Williams said.
Just 10 years ago, the department was still in the stone ages in some aspects as it still used VHS tapes. Now HPD has digital video cameras in every patrol vehicle. You guessed it, they were all funded through grant money.
“The only thing I buy out of the regular funds in the budget are the day-to-day things, the paper and the files and the uniforms and shoes — those things,” Williams said. “All these extras we have bought, we have bought the vast majority at no cost to the taxpayers.”
But despite all of its modern upgrades and advances, the Hillsville Police Department still does things most in the state don’t. Among those are unlocking vehicles for citizens and daily checks of homes for people leaving town for extended periods.
“We do things a lot of departments don’t do. We still unlock cars. The only time we won’t do it is if we are so covered up we can’t get away, and then we will recommend they call the locksmith. I like to have that small town feel that if we’ve got time we will come and unlock your car,” Williams said. “Another thing we do is if you find you are going to be out of town for a while, whether it is an illness or vacation, if you call us before you leave, once a shift at least somebody will go to your house, park in your driveway, walk around the house and make sure it is secure. That is that small-town feeling we want people to have that they still have benefits of living in a small town. A lot of departments anymore won’t unlock your car unless it is an emergency.”
HPD also focuses heavily on training as Williams said the department sends officers to specialized training at every opportunity, although online training plays a big role now. The Department also has five Department of Criminal Justice Services-certified instructors, while four officers on staff have Bachelors’ Degrees and two have Masters’ Degrees. Williams has also served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors at the New River Criminal Justice Training Academy for the last two years, and he currently serves as President of the Blue Ridge Association of the Chiefs of Police.
Upon his election as Carroll County Sheriff in 1988, Dick Carrico started a seniors’ program for elderly folks who live alone or that did not have someone to check on them regularly. The Hillsville Police Department, in conjunction with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, has continued the program and plans to expound on it soon.
Each day, seniors in the program call into the sheriff’s office to check in with a dispatcher. If someone doesn’t call, an officer from one of the two local departments will stop by to check on the person to make sure they are alright.
“We’ve had cases where we have had to break into houses before and have people transported to the hospital. It’s absolutely a beneficial program,” Williams said. “Our population is getting older and more and more people are living alone that don’t necessarily have neighbors or family beside them to check on them regularly. This gives them security that somebody will check on them.”
Local resident Agnes Long has participated in the program for at least two years. She admits that she forgets to call sometimes, but takes solace in knowing someone will always check on her if she does.
“I think it is a great program. On Sunday mornings, I get up early and go to church and get so busy I forget to call sometimes,” Long said. “And when I do there is a policeman knocking on my door. I appreciate that.”
Aside from the security the program offers, she said everyone involved is very professional and nice. She hopes more seniors will take note of the program and utilize it as well.
“The dispatchers are so courteous and so nice when they answer the phone. I really appreciate it,” Long said. “This is a good program and I hope they will keep on it.”
Not only will the program continue, Williams said he hopes to expand it. He meets quarterly with the local TRIAD organization, a crime prevention program for seniors, and said a program titled ‘Adopt-A-Senior’ is in the works. The goal is to provide a service more than just a daily phone call.
“We want to find a peer, an acquaintance, a neighbor or someone who will not only call you periodically or check on you. You can’t always tell on the phone how someone is really doing. Our goal is for people who are alone, to find a friend or somebody who cares enough about them to check on them, take them to the store, make sure they are as healthy as possible,” Williams said. “We’d like for them to make sure there is nothing wrong at home such as a water leak or their heat has been cut off, something they wouldn’t tell about. There may even be a change in their health that the person is not outwardly aware of, and by talking to this person you realize something is wrong. It expands on the program to make it a little more personal.”