Stand T.A.L.L. (Thank A Local Lawman) is a program launched two years ago — by the non-profit, conservative N.C. Sentinel Patriot Club that Ron Kauffman also founded and leads. The retired corporate executive once was a radio talk show host. Locally, he is on the advisory board for Hendersonville’s Seventh Avenue business revitalization.
Other board members are Vice-Pres. Sharon Hanson, Sec. Kelsey Lyon, and Alan Ehrlich along with affiliate members Barbara Ehrlich, Merry Guy, and Barb Molton. Many core members are military veterans. A few are retired police, such as Joe Dwyer who was a San Fran homicide detective.
Twenty-seven businesses post signs as “Blue Backers.” Several eateries took turns providing free Coffee for Cops last year. Kauffman praised the “support and generosity” of donors, in taking on ongoing needs.
Their efforts have filled budgetary holes of the Henderson County sheriff and police chiefs of Hendersonville, Fletcher and Laurel Park, those administrators say. “Incredible” is how Sheriff’s Support Bureau Major Frank Stout terms the assistance. By now, it even aids efforts of campus security of Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) in East Flat Rock.
The model program keeps expanding — in money coming in, and spent for pivotal equipment (such as bulletproof vests for officers and police dogs) and training and community outreach. The end goal, Kauffman said, is to improve “their efficiency and effectiveness.”
The most recent major fundraiser was Corks for Cops, on June 22. The second annual celebration was again at Appalachian Ridge Artisan Cidery, affiliated with nearby Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards. That is at 588 Chestnut Gap Road, in the Edneyville area. Patrons paid $15 a ticket which included a glass of wine. Virginia & The Slims played swing music outside, at this fundraiser.
The money raised goes for various causes such as helping pay tuition for training at BRCC, Kauffman noted.
A special project is continuing the Boys & Girls Club’s new Kid and Cops outreach program into this summer. It began in April, with money from Stand T.AL.L to pay uniformed Hendersonville police when off-duty to work with youths in the club at 1304 Ashe St., Kauffman said. The club and nearby public park youths play in are in the Green Meadows projects, near Seventh Avenue in Hendersonville.
On one hand, officers boost security and deter crime through their greater presence in the neighborhood. They have been there daily during the school year, even greeting children as they are dropped off by buses after school.
Officers “lend a helping hand — whether it be with personal problems, or math homework,” Kauffman said. “They share in friendly conversations” to build rapport. Officers are there as a resource, not to lecture, he noted. “They listen to their concerns. When asked, they offer solutions to problems.”
This is within broader efforts to try to get youth more used to police as helpful people and role models, instead of adversaries. Officers reach out to the more than 1,100 youths ages 6-8 who go to the club in non-school hours and the summer, according to Boys & Girls Club Exec. Dir. Julia Hockenberry.
She noted the youths are from low-income homes — many with “fractured” families — and thus adult role models can help them immensely. She credits the officers with reinforcing life skills her trained staff teaches in the SMART Moves program.
Some officers told The Tribune how a local black youth acted surprised yet happy to see a black officer, saying he did not know any cops were black.
Benefits of such “community policing” include potential for greater respect of the law and its aim to protect the general public as well as for those who enforce it, more cooperation by witnesses to help solve crimes and to testify against perpetrators they may know including drug dealers.
The illicit drug trade and usage — most notably opioid prescription pills and their substitutes — is a rising epidemic in WNC and elsewhere. Stand T.A.L.L. is helping tackle it.
The group paid to help Laurel Park Police buy a wireless security camera system to monitor its new pill drop box. The box is inside the police station, which when closed could be a target for a break-in and theft of the drugs by “desperate” addicts or dealers, Maj. Stout noted. Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) regulations require such camera monitoring, in order to operate such a drop box.
Stout worked with LPP Chief Bobbie Trotter on the drop box, as he did for the one set up in 2013 in the Henderson County sheriff’s lobby. That is open 8-5 on weekdays. A drop box is where people can deposit unused or expired prescription pills, which are disposed in the sheriff’s incinerator. Stout noted that in five years, over 6,000 pounds of medicine was deposited then destroyed.
A nationwide effort set up drive-through pill drop-off April 28, as part of the National Take Back Initiative of DEA and Operation Medicine Drop. Hope Rx assisted locally.
Too often, a young adult swipes “grandma’s pills” from her medicine cabinet to use or sell on the street, Stout noted. The pills may be prescribed to limit pain after surgery and thus initially have a legit use. As Stout noted, the patient might get hooked on them then buy cheaper versions on the street where there are also homemade mixes that too often have lethal ingredients. Those wanting opioids look for others who have leftover prescribed pills.
Julie Huneycutt heads HOPE Rx efforts in Henderson County to curb drug addiction starting with educating youth. “We appreciate what Stand T.A.L.L. is doing…in helping us safely collect unused medication to avoid diversion into the wrong hands…to “help us take prescription drugs — particularly opioids — off our streets.”
Crime has risen along with drug abuse. Over 80 percent of all crimes in Henderson County are linked to substance abuse, according to sheriff’s data. Addicts or drug dealers might break into a house where they believe there are drugs such as unused pills, or to take valuables to sell for money to buy drugs, Stout noted. He said members of the notorious, violent MS-13 gang once based in L.A. are dealing drugs in “this (Asheville) area.”
“Drugs have ruined careers, destroyed families, devastated personal finances, and — at its worst — taken lives,” Kauffman said.
Chief Trotter is very impressed with how Stand T.A.L.L.’s board approved a grant mere days after she “shared with Mr. Kauffman the specs for the security system that we needed. It’s incredible to have an organization like theirs available to help us do a more effective job of protecting the local community. Thankfully, Stand T.A.L.L. has always been there for us, when we needed funding assistance.”
Training is also critical. Recently, the Stand T.A.L.L. board presented $1,000 for new officers to take the basic law enforcement training (BLET) program at BRCC. The donation was formally made a month and a half ago. Those expressing thanks for the donation then include BRCC Pres. Dr. Laura Leatherwood and the college’s Dir. of Law Enforcement Training Sherry Phillips and BLET instructional specialist Patrick Staggs.
Money raised has also gone to help buy, equip and train canine units. Board V.P. Hanson is big on dog projects. A new K9 agility and obstacle course is to be built this summer, with Stand T.A.L.L. funding, Kauffman said. Sheriff’s police dogs are getting sturdy yet much slimmer and lighter-weight “ballistic” vests than what they had. Maj. Stout said Stand T.A.L.L. bought three such vests at $1,800 each, for drug-sniffing patrol dogs. They go around the dog’s midsection, protecting vital organs. Dwyer, once a K9 officer, said with such modern vests the police dog is “unencumbered” and not slowed in its pursuits of suspects.
Police dogs are the “first line of defense — and they’re the first ones to get shot” since they can quickly run to an armed perpetrator, Dwyer said. One of his K9 partners was shot, in a raid.
Beyond mourning them, slain police dogs are pricy to replace. Hendersonville Police recently bought a police dog to replace a retiring one. Stand T.A.L.L. fully paid for advanced K-9 certification training for the dog (Sunny, a Belgian Malinois) and its assigned officer Pete Laite. The 16-week, 600-hour course cost $3,000 and concluded in late March.
This enabled police to still utilize two canines, Laite noted. He said Stand T.A.L.L. “stepped up, to provide us with the necessary funds that allowed us to fully train Sunny and get back to adequate strength in our K-9 unit.”
For more info on Stand T.A.L.L., call 393-0900 or check thankacop.org.