HUNTERSVILLE – Chief Cleveland Spruill, of the Huntersville Police Department, values the efforts of citizens to help stop crime.

The idea springs from his greatest fear – the injury or death of citizens and officers.

“I want to give people the best equipment and training to reduce the likelihood of a death in both citizens and officers,” he said. “Citizens are the best tools in our toolbox. I always tell them, if you see something, say something.”

Spruill began as police chief May 5 after 26 years at the Alexandria Police Department in Virginia. Upon becoming chief, he first had to assess the needs and limitations of HPD, learn what happens if a major incident occurs and get to know regional law enforcement agencies that partner with the department.

Spruill will take the lead this month in making sure his staff has met the standards of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agency the last few years. 

“So far, the Huntersville Police Department is in good shape,” he said. “The department is so well-managed and professional. This has been an exciting month for me.”

Spruill desired to become a police chief after working in patrol operations, administrative services, special operations and served as deputy chief in Alexandria. He spent time searching for jobs until he found the right place. While on vacation in Greensboro in December, an HPD officer encouraged him to visit the town.

He also had the opportunity to witness how the HPD handles different situations and people.

“I saw how HPD returned a disabled kid to his family who got lost after leaving a gym,” Spruill said. “It was a tearful reunion, but it showed me I had the skills Huntersville needed. It was a match made in heaven.” 

The rest of Spruill’s family lives in Alexandria. They will move to Huntersville as soon as his youngest son graduates high school next year.

Spruill has always been a stickler for the rules. In high school, he dreamed to be an attorney before he joined the military. It was this personality trait and aspiration that led Spruill to police work. Throughout his life, he often questioned what drives crime and how coming generations will continue crime.

Looking ahead, the chief wants to create a community-based focus of increasing engagement between officers and residents. He plans to build volunteer and internship programs to maintain the high level of service at HPD. He will soon be looking for community volunteers to help the department in public finger printing, SafeAssured programs for missing children and data entry.

“I am proactive,” he said. “I want to talk to citizens and make education and awareness to prevent crimes before they happen or be prepared when they do happen.”

With only 93 people on the police department staff, Spruill says the town’s 50,000-plus residents should also work with HPD to fight against crime. He urges people to call the police even if it something that may not seem like a big deal.

“There is a lot of administrative work that needs to be done first,” Spruill said. “We need to adjust the tactics so we are more efficient at fighting crime. The next thing I will do is go out in the community and meet with faith organizations, businesses, homeowner associations and different departments to teach that public safety is a police and community issue.”

With new ideas come plenty of challenges.

The computer age concerns Spruill. He and his staff will learn to keep up with the changing trends in technology, especially when laptops, iPhones and social media display crucial evidence to track a suspect’s whereabouts or Internet searches.

“Because any citizen can take a video and upload it to the web in seconds, this puts a greater demand on the police to provide for the community,” Spruill said. “We have to add another level of training and software as new devices come out.”

Having been a police chief for only a month, Spruill has already experienced dangerous encounters.

“A week ago, a guy came to HPD, threatening us with a gun in hand,” Spruill said. “He then committed suicide after the incident.”

He hopes to discover different approaches to deal with life-threatening crimes and situations.

Spruill follows the guidelines of smart policing. He wants his officers to bring diversity and different values and experience to the table.

“We have limited resources now and cops are not at every corner,” he said. “I do not want a SWAT team with all the same skills. I want to have predictive policing where we can track and monitor crime trends.”

For Spruill, it takes fresh creativity and an adjustment to new ways of thinking to reduce crime.   

“We need to change the culture of the organization to prevent more crimes,” Spruill said. “We are the 50th safest town in North Carolina, but we can become even safer than that.”