A small town on an island in the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia is struggling to replace a longtime officer who died three years ago.
The 1.2-square mile island lost its only police officer, Sergeant John Charnock, at the age of 62 in January 2020.
The veteran officer served the town as its only police officer for a decade. Now, the community is finding it difficult to replace him.
“I think one of the drawbacks from somebody who hasn’t been a police officer is the training. It’s like 16 weeks and quite extensive,” Mayor James Eskridge said.
Eskridge said life in the town is also a drawback for recruiting officers, with its lack of modern conveniences like grocery stores.
“Some people could adjust, but I know some people we’ve talked to have said they couldn’t,” Eskridge told WTVR 6.
Tangier resident and business owner Cameron Evans believes it’s better if the town hires a cop who doesn’t live on the island.
“I believe a cop who lived away from here could do a better job than somebody living here because it’s always gonna be biased a little bit,” said Cameron Evans, a Tangier native and business owner. “And somebody who doesn’t really know the population that well would be able to carry out their job a lot smoother, I would think, than somebody who knows every single person.”
Eskridge, who used to be the town’s police officer before Charnock, agreed.
Evans also added that the salary is not the most competitive compared with other agencies and lacks the same benefits.
“It’s kind of hard to entice somebody to move away and move here on a salary that isn’t, you know, substantial,” Evans said.
The good news for Tangier is that it doesn’t have a lot of crime. However, when issues arise, residents call the mayor or the town manager for help — neither of whom are certified to enforce the law.
“We don’t have a police officer, so they call the mayor,” Eskridge said.
Instead, residents turn to the Accomack County Sheriff’s Office for help, which has jurisdiction over the island.
“Anytime they call, we respond,” Accomack County Sheriff Todd Wessells said. “As long as there ain’t a hurricane, if it’s an emergency, we’re coming.”
Still, the trip usually takes an hour for deputies to get from the eastern shore to the island in their boat.
For medical emergencies, the town relies on the Maryland State Police’s medevac helicopter.
Tangier residents are mostly concerned about enforcing traffic laws.
“You’ve always got pedestrians on the street, kids playing on the street,” the mayor explained.
He said having an officer on duty could help deter speeding.
Sheriff Wessells added that the island has a resident Virginia Marine Resources Commission officer who can make arrests in emergency situations, if needed.
Wessells also said that during the school year, two of his deputies teach Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) classes to students on the island a few days per week, and their presence helps.
The island has had several drug overdose deaths in recent years.
“Tangier is unique. I would love to be able to keep somebody over there. But unfortunately, I can’t,” Wessells said. “I don’t have the manpower to keep somebody over there all the time.”