NAVASSA — Navassa’s city council may be in the final stages of hiring a new police chief after a five-month vacancy in the position, according to the town’s mayor and interim lead officer. The new development follows years of disorder and turnover in the town police department.
“They’ve made a conditional offer to a gentleman,” Sgt. Scott Solari told Port City Daily after the Navassa town hall meeting last Thursday. Solari, currently the highest-ranking officer in the department and has assumed interim leadership duties since Daryll DeCotis resigned in May, said he was unable to release the candidate’s name at this time.
Solari explained, because the candidate’s policing history is out of state, he must go through an evaluation with the North Carolina Department of Justice’s Training and Standards division in Raleigh to determine if his training meets state standards. He is currently compiling the candidate’s paperwork to send to Raleigh to initiate the state approval process.
Depending on the assessment, the candidate may need additional training to be sworn in in North Carolina. The candidate cannot carry out law enforcement duties until he is granted state accreditation.
“He cannot do anything police-related; he can’t wear a badge; he can’t have a gun; he can’t drive a patrol car, but he can do administrative duties,” Solari said.
The sergeant mentioned grant-writing as a task the candidate could focus on before being granted state certification. Solari believes Navassa’s police department will need to expand because the town is expected to experience significant development and population growth in coming years. He hopes the candidate’s background in grant-writing will help provide funds to supplement the town’s current $329,139 annual public safety budget.
“He’s well-versed in grant-writing and that would be a big help for the department,” Solari said.
He told Port City Daily that Navassa now has four officers on staff, up from only one in June. The department has been short-staffed at multiple points since the city council abruptly terminated its relationship with Northwest Police Department in October 2020.
Northwest previously helped support Navassa law enforcement with joint checkpoints, equipment and personnel. Preston Howell, who was Navassa’s police chief from 2013 to May 2021, told WWAY in October 2020 he was not informed by the council of the reason for terminating the relationship with Northwest and was caught off guard.
Mayor Willis indicated the motivation for ending the town’s partnership with Northwest was because it was poaching officers from the Navassa department.
“There is some concern among the council that Northwest has been kind of stealing our officers,” Willis told WWAY in October 2020. “We’ve had like three people here in the last couple of years that actually left here and went up to Northwest, so they’re not appreciating that too much and this last one really resonated with the council, but I can’t say for sure that that’s the reason they did what they did.”
Brunswick District Attorney Jon David and former council member Thurman Everett have both blamed Navassa’s comparatively low salaries as a reason for low police staff retention. Navassa offers police officer candidates a maximum of $37,500 to $40,000 per year plus benefits. Neighboring Northwest offers law enforcement positions $40,462 to $50,200.
After Howell resigned in May 2021, Stephen Conrad served as his interim replacement. Conrad then resigned shortly after him in July 2021.
A day after Conrad’s resignation, the police department faced scandal. Leland resident Eric Cinotti, a volunteer without formal police certification, was arrested for impersonating an officer in Navassa. He was later convicted in a Brunswick County court on two felony counts of operating a vehicle with blue lights.
Brunswick District Attorney Jon David criticized town officials for failing to verify Cinotti’s law enforcement credentials. He described the blunder as symptomatic of broader structural and leadership problems with the town’s police department.
Daryll DeCotis then took over as police chief from November 2021 until May 2023. Solari told Port City Daily that medical issues contributed to DeCotis’ retirement.
Solari rejoined the Navassa force as interim lead officer in August 2023 after spending three years with the Northwest Police Department. He previously worked for Navassa from February 2014 to August 2020.
Solari said the department’s relationship with Navassa residents has improved since his return.
“It used to be, you could ride down the road and you would get waved at by the middle finger,” Solari said.
He said the department eased its previously tense relations with Navassa citizens by shifting to a less punitive style of policing.
“Not everybody has to go to jail, not everybody has to get a citation,” Solari said. “I would much rather just have a conversation. And that just goes much further with interacting with the citizens.”
Willis also described Solari’s interim leadership of the department as focused on developing relationships with community members.
“He’s using common-sense policing, I’m talking about neighborhood policing,” Wilis said. “He’s been keeping the young guys in check and kind of guiding them along.”
[Editors Note: A previous version of this article cited the Raleigh Police Department as part of the process to evaluate out-of-state law enforcement candidates. The Raleigh Police Department is not involved in this process. The story has been updated to cite the correct organization, the NC Department of Justice’s Training and Standards division. Port City Daily regrets this error.]
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