By Jefferson Weaver
Every day, Fair Bluff Police Chief Chris Chafin and his four officers encounter something new.
“It’s never dull,” Chafin said with a laugh.
Situated in the extreme southwestern end of the county, Fair Bluff is often the route of choice for drug dealers and other criminal suspects who underestimate the town’s small police force.
“We have roads going into Robeson County and South Carolina, as well as out into the county,” Chafin explained. “We’re a little isolated, and off the main road. That doesn’t mean we don’t enforce the law.”
While not all traffic scofflaws are serious felons, Chafin said traffic enforcement still takes up a big part of his department’s patrol time. Shortly before meeting a reporter at the police office Tuesday, Chafin pulled a female driver for speeding through town – driving 70 in a 35 mile per hour zone.
“People think they can fly through here or not worry about the traffic laws,” he said. “We change their minds on that. There’s no reason to speed through here and endanger other people.”
Fair Bluff has faced more than its share of challenges in recent years – the devastation of Hurricane Matthew, loss of the tobacco markets and sewing plant, and the migration of people and jobs to larger communities experienced by small towns everywhere.
Those losses have played havoc with the town’s tax base and by extension, the police department. In addition to regular traffic enforcement, officers also check reports of crime in neighborhoods, investigate break-ins, and keep a close eye on the dozens of buildings still lacking doors and windows wiped out by Matthew’s flooding.
Often only one officer is on duty during a shift, Chafin said, requiring the whole department to work very closely together on schedules and patrols. Fair Bluff also has a trained detective who is asked to assist Chadbourn or other agencies on more complex cases.
“I hope someday we can add another officer or two,” Chafin said, “but it’s going to be a while before that can happen. But we have a good town, a strong town. I’m optimistic.”
Fair Bluff officers aggressively pursue speeders and traffic violations, Chafin said, in part because those often turn into larger cases.
Drugs, illegal firearms, and other contraband regularly turn up in suspect vehicles.
Chafin said he encourages his officers to take advantage of training opportunities whenever possible.
“We have a great relationship with the other agencies,” he said, “but we’re kind of out here, kind of by ourselves. I want my men to have the skills they need to provide the level of service our town expects and deserves. At the same time, I don’t have to worry – if it’s something bigger than we think we can handle, they’ll call the SBI or other agencies for help without hesitation.”
Since he became chief in 2015, Chafin said, the department has seized a total of 36 illegal firearms, including three so far this year. Officers have also seen a rise in drug seizures in recent years – not just opiates, but marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines.
“We’re not really different from any other small town,” he said. “Drugs are on the rise everywhere.”
One particular recent bust netted 10 grams of methamphetamine, Chafin said, along with drug paraphernalia. Opiates are slowly becoming more common than even marijuana, along with synthetic cannabinoids like “Spice.”
Fair Bluff officers removed 91 pills, .91 grams of crack, a small amount of cocaine and methamphetamines, and 267.68 grams of marijuana in 2016.
The next year, Fair Bluff officers confiscated 39.5 doses of opiates, 1.01 grams of crack, .5 grams of cocaine, .05 grams of MDMA, 28.7 grams of synthetic marijuana, and 162.44 grams of marijuana.
The recent seizure of 10 grams of high grade crystal meth had a street value in the thousands of dollars, Chafin said.
“Anytime we can get some more drugs off the streets, we’re happy,” he said. “It’s a never-ending battle, and it contributes to so many other problems.”
The department has three full-time officers – Chafin, Lt. Ken Grice, and Det. Lee Allsbrooks. Part-time officers Grady Porter and David Schmale help round out the force. In 2017, they made a total of 39 felony arrests and 84 misdemeanor arrests.
Having a small department in a busy town requires some extra effort on the part of his team, Chafin said.
“I don’t have to worry about my guys,” he said. “If they have a court date, or have to be off, they switch out. We cover each other, and our neighboring departments. If Chadbourn, Tabor City or the sheriff’s office needs us, we’re there for them, and they are for us as well. We are going to take care of our town.”
As the town slowly recovers from Matthew’s flooding, Chafin said, he thinks things will get better.
“Look, we have the big cat sanctuary coming in,” he said. “There will be people who work there, and people who come to visit. They’ll find out about the Riverwalk, and enjoy that. They’ll visit our restaurants. The more people come here, the more potential the town has.
“We have the new apartments going up on Rough and Ready Road. I think we’ll see Fair Bluff come back strong. We have the restaurants holding on, and when we have more people getting back into their homes, and visitors seeing what we have, Fair Bluff will come back. We’re going to do our best to give them a safe town to visit or to call home.”