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The Daily Tar Heel

Local Police Benefit From Collaboration

The information informed Carrboro police that Dwayne Russell Edwards, a suspect in a sexual assault in Chapel Hill, would be returning to his apartment by car.

Using the information, Carrboro police were able to stop Edwards before he even reached his home.

The arrest was a break in the investigation of three sexual assaults in the Carrboro and Chapel Hill area and, police felt, removed a violent criminal from the street.

It also highlighted a relationship that many residents don't consider very unusual anymore: the interaction of at least four agencies in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area.

In addition to the collaboration of the two municipal agencies, the UNC Department of Public Safety also participated by investigating Edwards' background as a University employee.

"Obviously the severity of this crime is not something we encounter everyday," said Maj. Jeff McCracken of UNC police. "But it's not that uncommon to have a criminal in this community who breaks the law in several agencies."

The agencies often work on cases, especially in crimes such as car break-ins, where the offenders will strike in both municipalities. When an offender is at large, the agency puts out information by way of the 911 dispatch service so that every police department in the area receives the information.

The Carrboro-Chapel Hill area and the UNC campus are served by four nearby agencies including the Chapel Hill Police Department, Carrboro Police Department, UNC police and the independent police of UNC Hospitals.

The agencies also work with the Orange County Sheriff's office in some cases. "In my experience, while it may be unusual, it's the norm for us," Carrboro Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison said.

She said the long-term relationships of the agencies helped smooth out any differences.

One difference the departments have had to address is the communication gap. Each agency operates on a different radio frequency. To communicate with an officer of a different agency, an officer must switch over to the other officer's radio frequency. The UNC police also has its own 911 dispatch service, separate from the municipal 911 agency.

This sometimes makes radio communication more difficult than officials would like, said Chapel Hill police spokeswoman Jane Cousins.

"Our radio communication countywide is fragmented," she said. "We can't always communicate very smoothly."

To combat the problem, each patrol car is equipped with both radio and scanner equipment so officers can communicate with their own colleagues and monitor the other agencies' frequencies.

Hutchison said despite the communication differences, the two agencies work hard to keep information flowing.

"Communication is important in any organization," she said. "Immediately the communication is set up, it's available and we are able to find it."

She said different frequencies usually only create very small delays. During special events such as Halloween, different agencies often will rent the same type of radio for quick communication.

Cousins said contact between patrol officers of different agencies was frequent and amiable. "Lots of times, particularly in patrol, they will overlap and assist each other in cases," Cousins said.

Cousins said each agency's administration is slightly different but that the good relationship cancels out those differences and that agencies often share resources such as dogs, interpreters and crisis counselors. "We've all known each other so long that when problems do arise we are able to address them and get over them," Cousins said.

Hutchison said the competitive job market in the area provided them with highly skilled officers. "From department to department, officers in this area are very capable people -- they are intelligent, and they use their discretion well."

Hutchison said the long-standing relationship of the two municipal agencies was very helpful during investigations of crimes that extended across jurisdictions. "If a relationship is developed between agencies, we don't have to develop that relationship on the spot, so we are able to work together more efficiently."

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