SOUTHPORT, NC (WECT) - The Southport Police Department opened Monday for the first time in 3 months. The department abruptly closed this summer, after its chief and lieutenant were arrested for corruption and fraud.
Southport Police Chief Gary Smith and Lt. Michael Christian Simmons are accused of taking on second jobs as truck drivers while they were on the clock with the police department, and supposedly on patrol. Six police officers who had been on paid leave ever since the department closed are now back at work.
Todd Coring has taken over as top cop. Coring spent 20 years with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, and is the mayor pro tem of Southport. Coring is resigning from his elected office so he can take over the police department. His father and grandfather also served as police chief for Southport. Chief Coring says he and his officers have some damage control to do, but he aims to restore the department’s reputation through community policing.
"I know we've got some things, some challenges ahead of us,” Chief Coring told WECT. “Somebody mentioned earlier, ‘You know, you got a black cloud over you guys.’ We know that and there are going to be some eyes on us. That's why I met with the officers. I called them all in on Friday afternoon and they were all very excited to be coming back. Like I said, a lot of citizens are glad that we're going to be back. I just told [my officers] to be prepared how to talk to citizens who may be questioning what's going on. I know I've had that with me already."
Coring says he will focus on foot patrols, getting to know residents by name, and making sure that residents feel his officers are approachable.
The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office had been providing police services while the police office was closed, and some people questioned whether the low crime town of Southport even needed its own police force. But Chief Coring said Southport has historically been a full-service town, and they wanted to keep it that way.