By Rick Curl
Dunn Daily Record
Before the filing period for this year’s municipal elections were suspended, Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats filed to seek another term.
With the uncertainty of COVID-19, the legal wrangling over gerrymandering, Coats decided to file the first day for what he calls the “best job in the world,” instead of waiting until February as he did last election. Coats chose Valentine’s Day to share it with his wife, Dale.
“This year I wanted to go ahead and put it out there because of how it’s been,” Coats said. “I filed the first day. Thankfully so, because the next day they closed it down. So I wanted the citizens of this county to know I am running again.”
When you ask him why he decided to try and extend his time in the sheriff’s office, Coats tells you the first reason is his passion for the job. He’s been in law enforcement for nearly 29 years, with the last 25 on the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’re doing a lot of good things here at the sheriff’s office and I’m not ready to step down,” he said. “I’m not ready to retire, I’m blessed with good health and I love what I do. I’ve got a great group of men and women who surround me and we’ve got a lot left to be done for the good people in this county.”
As he continues to offer a list of what he’s accomplished as sheriff, Coats cites several achievements, none more indicative of his department than the certification by CALEA. The national law enforcement accreditation is recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the National Sheriff’s Association.
“That’s a high honor,” he said. “It holds you and your department to a higher standard. They don’t set your policies. What they do is make sure you are enforcing your policies.”
Next on the list is the implementation of a Citizen’s Academy, which Coats and his command staff hopes will change the perception of how the department functions. The program gives residents who are selected to attend, an opportunity to learn more about the various aspects of the sheriff’s office and gives them access not usually seen, according to Coats.
“It did exactly what we wanted it to do,” he said. “There’s 12 Tuesday nights and each department inside the sheriff’s office shares with students their various functions.”
Coats cites another plus as the creation of what he calls an “impact team,” a group of officers focusing on more than just traffic stops or answering routine calls. The group of deputies can shift their focus to a more specialized patrol, such as high crime areas or places where speeders are a problem.
“We will put them out there to be visible, for example, and run radar or patrol an area where we are needed most,” he said. “We do a lot with that program.”
Other achievements Coats feels important include sending supervisory staff to specialized training for leadership skills and problem-solving.
Extensive training isn’t just limited to the supervisory staff, according to Coats he’s increased the annual training each deputy is required to do beyond what the state calls for each year.
“We do double, sometimes triple what the state requires,” he said. “That’s what we wanted to be the best at what we do.”
Other accomplishments, he notes, include:
Project Lifesaver, a voluntary program used to help track those with dementia and other cognitive issues, should they walk away from their home.
The increase of school resource officers to every school in Harnett County.
In-car cameras at no expense to the taxpayers of the county. The money for the cameras came from asset forfeiture money taken from, among other things, drug dealers.
Putting “In God We Trust” on patrol and other vehicles.
Cameras on school buses to catch drivers who pass buses.
A professional standards review to take all complaints against the department before sending the complaint to an internal affairs unit.
Education programs for students revolving around the use of opioids.
Installing a full-time Police Athletic and Activities League for the HCSO.
A dedicated gang officer, to validate and recognize gang members.