Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson may be among those who have spoken out in favor of less punitive measures to address the problem of drug addiction. But the county’s top-ranking law enforcement official also has some stern words of warning for anyone in the illegal drug trade who thinks he’s gone soft during his nearly two decades in office.
Among the items he broached when he appeared before Alamance County’s commissioners on Monday, Johnson was particularly keen to discuss his concerns about illegal activity within Burlington’s Maple Avenue corridor.
The sheriff insisted that the portion of this thoroughfare which lies just off of the interchange for I-85/40 has become an epicenter for many of the vices that he attributes to the illegal drug trade in Alamance County. He ultimately attributed much of the problem to the hotels and motels that crowd this part of the corridor. Johnson also made it abundantly clear that he isn’t the only one with concerns about the goings-on at these exemplars of the local hospitality industry.
“We [sheriff’s office and Burlington police department] agreed that we need to get together and stop what’s going on in these hotels . . . These have been major problem areas as far as drugs, prostitution, and human trafficking, and we want to work with the people running these motels.”
– Sheriff Terry Johnson
“Myself and my chief deputy met with the acting chief in Burlington and the assistant chief,” the sheriff went on to inform the commissioners, “and they too agreed that we need to get together and stop what’s going on in these hotels…These have been major problem areas as far as drugs, prostitution, and human trafficking, and we want to work with the people running these motels.”
Brian Long, the assistant police chief who met with the sheriff and his chief deputy, subsequently told The Alamance News that this interjurisdictional powwow was mainly intended to prevent the two agencies from stepping on each others toes as they undertake operations in the same general area.
“The real conversation was that we recognize they’re doing work out there and they recognize we’re doing work out there,” Long said in an interview Tuesday. “Our calls for service in the area are increasing…and the interest, on our part, was in not duplicating resources.”
Long went on to provide the newspaper with some statistics on “Part One” offenses, such as rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, that his department has logged at six of the corridor’s hotels and motels during the past four calendar years. The police department’s inventory identifies the businesses in question as Econo Lodge, Knights Inn, Microtel, Royal Inn, Oyo Hotel (which is currently dubbed the Maple Hotel), and Motel 6. According the agency’s data, these six establishments generated a total of 30 “Part One” crimes in 2018 and another 30 in 2019. This cumulative sum nevertheless jumped to 61 in 2020, and it already reached 55 offenses by July 29 of the current calendar year.
In an attempt to explain this precipitous increase in crimes, Long alluded to some apparent changes in business practices that coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The intelligence that we’re receiving from out there,” the assistant chief added, “is that a lot of the hotels and motels used to have restrictions on renting to locals…But with COVID, I think, some of the rules have changed – from short-term overnight [stays] to weekly and monthly [occupancy that caters to local residents rather than visitors].
“We can’t go out there and arrest everybody,” he added, “because a lot of these folks are just looking for affordable housing and rentals.”
During his presentation to the commissioners, Johnson insisted that local law enforcement could theoretically get nuisance abatement orders to deal with some of the problematic establishments within the Maple Avenue Corridor. He added, however, that for the time being, he and his counterparts in Burlington would prefer to use a lighter touch to address the problems at hand.
“We’re going to work with the owners of these hotels,” he said, “and with the managers of these hotels to be able to get what we need to do our job the help that we need to clean this corridor up.”
THE SIX HOTELS AT THE CENTER OF BURLINGTON POLICE DEPARTMENT CRIME STATISTICS:
Johnson added that his own office made another 82 drug arrests at the corridor’s hotels between January 1 and July 15 of this year. He noted that, during this same period, his deputies accumulated 1,096 drug-related collars across the whole county, while the county’s Emergency Medical Services have logged 445 overdoses since the start of the year. Johnson added that since the beginning of 2020, his own office has responded to 102 overdoses, including 10 that were ultimately fatal.
Johnson’s grim numbers, particularly for the Maple Avenue corridor, drew an incredulous response from commissioner Bill Lashley.
“Sheriff can we shut this place down?” the commissioner went on to inquire. “This is ridiculous. these owners know this is going on. So they’re culpable, here.”
Johnson told Lashley that he would prefer not to have an adversarial relationship with the motels in question, although he acknowledged that he and his colleagues would do anything within the bounds of the law to bring the crime in these establishments under control.
“Nothing is off the table,” he insisted.
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