Opinion: Let the troopers patrol I-85

Much is made of the perception that the state has done essentially nothing for Henderson and Vance County through our tribulations of recent years.

Gov. Mike Easley poured resources into Cabarrus County after Pillowtex shut down but did nothing for us after J.P. Taylor, Harriet & Henderson Yarns, Americal and A.E. Nathan either closed or ended manufacturing.

Easley put together a $242 million incentives package to bring Dell to Forsyth County, where unemployment is under 4 percent, but forgot that Vance County’s unemployment rate is regularly triple Forsyth’s.

The governor has burned plenty of political capital on his quest for an “education” lottery but hasn’t lifted a finger to relieve counties of their share of Medicaid costs, a move that would instantly free up millions of dollars in the poorest counties, such as Vance, the ones that need the most help with education funding.

The Vance County Coalition Against Violence is pushing for the state to pay attention to our problems. The group is writing to Easley and other top state officials to demand that they come to Henderson to see the situation firsthand. And some coalition members want the Highway Patrol or the National Guard to move into Henderson to assist the city police in the war on crime.

Police Chief Glen Allen said he recently talked to Bryan Beatty, the state secretary of crime control and public safety, and, well, don’t hold your breath waiting to see state troopers or guardsmen stationed in Flint Hill. According to Allen, Beatty said that’s not the job of the Highway Patrol, and the National Guard is too busy in Afghanistan and Iraq to march into Henderson.

But we think there is a role for the Highway Patrol in helping the Henderson police fight crime, and it’s an idea that comes from the Speak Up Henderson forum before last week’s City Council meeting.

In response to a citizen question that night, Allen explained that the city police are responsible for patrolling and responding to accidents on the 4.5 miles of Interstate 85 within city limits. State statute establishes that situation, the chief said, but he noted that some small towns make arrangements for the Highway Patrol to do the job on the interstate.

So that’s our suggestion to Beatty on how he can fight crime inside Henderson: Sign an agreement for the Highway Patrol to do what it does best and monitor I-85 within the city, and increase staffing enough at the patrol’s Henderson station to handle the task.

It’s not a huge change, and it wouldn’t turn Henderson into Utopia. But it would free up police units to concentrate on crime instead of traffic control, and it would show that the people down in Raleigh recognize we are part of North Carolina and deserve our share of state aid.