By Stefanie Jackson – Eastville Police Major Rob Stubbs sat down with the Eastern Shore Post Sept. 17 to address some of his department’s practices that recently have come under scrutiny and to discuss the unique challenges of working for the smallest Northampton town that has its own police force.
The Eastville Police Department is different from its counterparts in Exmore and Cape Charles, and comparing it to the other two is like “comparing apples to oranges,” Stubbs said.
Eastville has a population of about 335 and five full-time town employees, all of whom are police officers.
With no Eastville public works or other departments, town police officers must multitask while on patrol, doing duties such as turning water connections on and off and keeping an eye out for leaks.
One Eastville police officer who is particularly familiar with multitasking is Chief David Eder, who also is the town administrator.
Concerned citizen Stuart Oliver suggested at the Eastville Town Council meeting in August that Eder’s dual role presents a possible conflict of interest and the opportunity for corruption.
But Stubbs said a conflict of interest is not possible because neither position is subordinate to the other – both are directed by the Town Council.
He also responded to a complaint made by Oliver during the Sept. 13 Town Council meeting, about the police department not responding to the majority of Eastville’s calls for service after 10 p.m.
Eastville does not have 24/7 police coverage, but neither does Exmore or Cape Charles, although they may attempt to provide as close to 24/7 coverage as possible, Stubbs said.
With Eastville’s five police officers each scheduled to work 40 hours a week, a total of 120 hours out of the 168 hours in every week, 24/7 coverage is impossible.
However, an officer has covered the night shift every day since spring, he said. For officer safety, he did not disclose the start and end time of the night shift.
Officers are on call 24/7, he added. Stubbs noted that when a suicide occurred near Yuk Yuk & Joe’s restaurant in February 2019, he was on the scene within 12 minutes. When a motorcycle gang-related shooting occurred in town earlier this year, he arrived within 18 minutes, he said.
Eastville police respond to more calls for service outside town than within the town limits, Stubbs added.
The three town police departments, the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office, and the Virginia State Police “all work together to keep our citizens safe,” he said.
Eastville’s police department has a mutual aid agreement with the county sheriff’s office, meaning officers and deputies assist one another.
It’s not just the towns that need help from the county – NCSO is “spread thin,” with two deputies on duty per shift, Stubbs noted.
A typical day on the job for Eastville police officers will include patrol, traffic enforcement, and writing reports, Stubbs said.
Their schedules vary depending on the season. They’re more likely to be scheduled later in the day during the summer, when someone is on the night shift every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
The “midnight shift” is always the least staffed, and it’s a “national problem,” Stubbs said.
The late shift always presents a police staffing dilemma because more crime occurs at night, but the heaviest traffic and highest likelihood of police interaction with the public is during the day.
There also remains the question of how to pay for police coverage at night, when traffic is lighter and traffic violations are fewer. Stubbs’ goal is to maximize police coverage “without increasing taxes 1,000%,” he said.
For these reasons, it makes sense to place more emphasis on providing police coverage during the day than at night, Stubbs said.
Also under scrutiny is how much time Eastville police officers spend daily on traffic enforcement and how many tickets they write every month. In July, they issued more than 1,600 traffic citations. That number dropped considerably in August but was still more than 1,000.
Stubbs acknowledged that police fines help keep the town budget balanced and added that “we don’t have a choice” because Eastville’s tax structure is different from that of other Eastern Shore towns.
Eastville charges residents real estate and property taxes, but they are
“extremely low,” he noted.
Without police fines, Eastville brings in annual revenue of less than $100,000 – not enough to sustain the town’s operations.
Eastville police also have been criticized for earning thousands of dollars in overtime while writing traffic tickets. Oliver has pointed out that Stubbs was paid more than $43,000 just for overtime in 2019.
But Exmore and Cape Charles employ the same policy that allows police officers to earn overtime through additional traffic enforcement, Stubbs claimed, and there is no lack of drivers traveling far above the speed limit.
Eastville police generally don’t consider stopping a vehicle traveling less than 70 mph, and they usually don’t issue a reckless driving violation to someone driving less than 80 mph, Stubbs said.
He doesn’t set “quotas” but he sets a “revenue goal” every year, which he breaks down by the month.
Stubbs believes in setting goals that are achievable, which officers can not only meet but
He acknowledged that Eastville police are paid at higher rates than other area law enforcement officers, and that is intentional to attract the best candidates for the positions.
Concerning two separate FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for data on police salaries and wages, which appeared to produce inconsistent results, Stubbs noted that an annual salary is different from total yearly wages reported on a W-2, which includes overtime.
Raises are given by the fiscal year, which begins in July, not the calendar year, he added.
Additionally, Christmas bonuses were not renamed hazard pay in 2020; the hazard pay bonuses were provided through federal grant funds for police officers who were working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Stubbs said.
He also addressed questions concerning the prices of the Eastville Police Department’s vehicles and equipment and why the town did not fulfill a recent FOIA request for a weapons inventory.
Stubbs prefers to purchase vehicles and equipment that may have higher upfront costs but will last longer, be cheaper to maintain, and retain more of their value over the long term.
For example, a Chevy Tahoe SUV may cost $10,000 more than a Dodge Charger, but the SUV has a lower cost of ownership and a higher resale value, Stubbs said.
He approaches the purchase of police weapons similarly, although Eastville police do not have Sig Sauer rifles; neither do they have silencers or suppressors that cost more than other Shore police departments’ rifles, he said.
Stubbs noted the FOIA request for the weapons inventory was very specific, and releasing those details could compromise police officer safety.
“If I tell you every single piece of equipment (we have) … I’ve told you how to defeat us,” Stubbs said.
He added that the decision not to release the weapons inventory was made following legal consultation with the Virginia Municipal League.
“I try to be a very positive person,” Stubbs said of his relationship with the police officers he supervises.
He also believes the Eastville police have an overall good relationship with the community. Stubbs reported that citizens often thank the officers for their service, even when the department is taking heavy criticism as it is now.
But he acknowledged that he does “need to do a better job of public relations.”
A top concern of the police department is the safety of citizens, not just in Eastville, Northampton County, or Virginia, but “everybody” – including travelers passing through from other states.
Stubbs said “everything is above board” at the Eastville Police Department, and “we are trying to make the best decisions for our citizens we can.”