Thursday, March 07, 2013 9:50 PM
Veteran lawman finds new life as small-town police chief
By Jon Jimison | Times Editor
FREMONT — In December 2010, things didn’t look so good for Paul Moats. The law enforcement veteran was one of about 19 people who lost their job when Sheriff Calvin Woodard came into office in Wilson County.
"It was kind of heartbreaking to end a 20-year career at the sheriff’s office,” Moats said.
But today, everything has changed. Losing that job, part of an election-year shift in the sheriff’s office, was a "blessing in disguise.”
Moats, 45, quickly landed a job as chief of police for the town of Fremont in Wayne County and was sworn in April 1, 2011.
Moats is approaching two years in office and statistics show overall crime has decreased 20 percent in the town of 1,258 people.
And property crimes have shown a dramatic, 63 percent decline.
In 2011, there were 114 property crimes (37 were break-ins). In 2012, there were 42 property crimes (nine were break-ins).
Moats credits several key arrests in fueling this reduction.
"I’ve taken myself to a whole different level in law enforcement,” Moats said from his office in Fremont. "I think this was the path God chose for me.”
One of the first priorities was making sure the town had 24-hour coverage.
"It wasn’t like that when I first got here,” Moats said.
"We were having a large influx of breaking and entering and property crimes when I first got here,” Moats said. "We were having one or two a week just break-ins. I was able to determine a lot of these break-ins were occurring after the previous officers were getting off anywhere from 2 to 3 in the morning.”
Moats said it became obvious that the criminal element in Fremont was aware the officers were getting off early and the town was uncovered.
"So of course I immediately went to work on a schedule staying within budgetary guidelines,” Moats said. "We were able to come up with a schedule to provide 24-hour coverage. They were also understaffed.”
The first six months on the job also served to evaluate the officers and talent on the police force.
"There was a certain personality that I wanted here in Fremont,” Moats said. "I wanted someone to come in and treat the public with respect and treat the people the way they would want to be treated. I didn’t want anyone here who was going to be overly aggressive.”
Moats noted they experienced 100 percent turnover with the full-time positions. Two were the decisions of the town board. The other decision rested with Moats.
There are currently four full-time positions and eight part-time positions with the Fremont Police Department.
"They do an excellent job,” Moats said. "They use their head and they are smart officers.”
The strong part-time staff even includes Wayne County sheriff’s deputies, he said.
He noted the working relationship is solid with Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders and Fremont police head up major investigations in their own town.
Moats is making his mark by getting out of the office and talking with folks and visiting businesses regularly.
"I just be the person I was brought up to be,” Moats said. "I want to be that type of chief. I get out and talk to the people. People feel like they can approach me. I get out and I visit the businesses. I get out and sit on someone’s front porch and have a conversation with them.
Law enforcement goes far beyond investigations and tickets.
"It’s about getting out and knowing the people of the community and building the trust,” Moats said.
Property crimes and drug activity have been the main issues for Fremont. Six or seven search warrants have been issued for drug-related seizures.
Moats points to police responding to more calls and a broader range of calls than in the past. Other calls for service have increased from 26 in 2011 to 68 this past year.
"We’re really making a big difference,” Moats said. "We’re noticing community members are getting out in the morning and walking their dogs in neighborhoods they probably wouldn’t have walked in two years ago.”
Moats also has an open door policy.
"There is nobody I deny visiting at any time during the day,” Moats said. "My door is always open. I never turn down a phone call or visit from a community member.”
"Yes ma’am,” Moats says, interrupting the interview to take a phone call from a concerned resident. "If he causes you any problems don’t hesitate to call us and we will have officers over there.”
He concedes he can’t make everyone happy.
Moats lives in Wilson with his wife, Robin. He has four boys, Colton, 10, Tanner, 12, Christopher, 25, and Cameron, 22.
Moats was born in Kentucky and moved to Wilson when he was 10.
Moats graduated from Fike High School in Wilson in 1986, and entered the U.S. Army, where he served two years as a military police officer, then returned to Wilson. He enrolled in Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) at Wilson Community College and graduated in 1990.
While attending BLET school, Moats supported his family by working nighttime hours as a security guard at Wilson Medical Center.
"Having to keep up your school work, maintain your family life, go to school full time, going to school every morning, going to work every evening and work until midnight and then get up and go to school the next morning, Moats said, "it took a lot for me to get through that 17-week process. Once I got through with it, it was very rewarding.”
Moats credits former Wilson Police Capt. Harvey Page for helping him get his law enforcement career started. Moats worked for Page at the hospital and he worked with and encouraged him every step of the way. He said he owes a lot to Page.
Moats served two decades as a deputy with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office.
During his career as a deputy, Moats held the position of patrol deputy and was promoted to corporal in 1995. In 2000, he was again promoted and assigned as a detective in the Narcotics Division. While serving in that capacity, he was promoted to sergeant in 2007. In 2008, he was given the responsibility of overseeing the Sheriff’s Office Problem Oriented Response Team or POST team. During the last part of his career with Wilson, he was assigned to the patrol team where he served as sergeant.
Moats recalls the high-profile cases he worked on at the sheriff’s office with the DEA, SBI and local law enforcement.
"Our biggest seizure would be 944 pounds of marijuana, anywhere from 2 to 12 kilos of cocaine. We worked on some pretty substantial cases,” Moats said. "At one time we seized about a kilo of heroin, which is really unheard of, but I learned a lot in the detectives division.”
Moats has worked on improving police response time.
The town has also looked at issues such as code enforcement of problematic high grass that detracts from the appearance of town.
Moats has a soft spot for local resident Barry Wooten, who appears to have little money or prospects for the future.
He gives Wooten money out of his own pocket for Wooten to clean up the town.
"I give him work to do,” Moats said. "He cleans the community up. We built a special relationship. I met him not too long after I started.”
Wooten, who lives in a trailer nearby, has been spotted asking residents for money in the past. Moats has set him on a more constructive path.
As Moats drives his police cruiser through town, he always checks on the bank employees several times a day.
"It takes a minute for them to notice me,” he said driving up in his unmarked police cruiser.
"Fremont had almost been kind of tight lipped,” Moats said. "That has changed. It’s a very good community, a lot of good people here. Most of my officers have a clear understanding of what I expect and what direction I want to go. They don’t get out here and just write a bunch of tickets.”
Moats is clear that if someone is doing wrong, they are doing wrong.
"But don’t go out there and write every person in the community a ticket if they just paused at a stop sign,” Moats said. "Stop them and warn them and be very courteous. It’s kind of a very fine line there. If you start writing everyone in the community a ticket it’s not going to give your police department a very good reputation.”
If there is a speeding issue in a certain area, it will be enforced and addressed, Moats said.
"If you give someone a break and they always remember that break and if you need information they are more apt to give you that information because you cut them a break,” Moats said. "If you gave them a ticket or if you were a little rude to them, you can expect to get nothing from them in the future. In order to do your job to the best of your ability, you have to rely on the public.”
Fremont Town Administrator Kerry McDuffie notes crime in the town has decreased. McDuffie said he’s pleased with the level of professionalism in the police department.
"They are doing a good job and we appreciate the job the chief is doing and the whole department is doing,” McDuffie said.
While response has been generally positive to Moats, you are always going to have residents not appreciative of the police department.
"Drug arrests have been up,” McDuffie said. "The majority of people appreciate that. I have always noticed throughout my career as a police department does its job, complaints will go up. I will deal with it.”
Moats can regularly be seen opening car doors at the local elementary school for students when they’re dropped off in the morning.
He is a living example of the James Taylor song "You’ve Got a Friend,” said Sheila Wolfe, principal of Fremont STARS Elementary School.
"He is here no matter what,” Wolfe said. "We have a drop-off point. He regularly opens the door and greets students and parents in the morning. He regularly walks through the schools. He does a lot of things that are not part of his job.”
Students know Moats is watching over them, keeping them safe, Wolfe said.
"It’s a great partnership,” Wolfe said. "I can always count on him. The great thing about Chief Moats is I don’t have to call. He is proud of their good work. His presence makes all the difference to the children.”
Wolfe has been at the school five years and she’s been in education for 27.
"It’s way above and beyond what most chiefs would see as part of their jobs,” Wolfe said. "I think his commitment and dedication is amazing.”
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