“I was at the local community college,” says Ledford. “I was taking a course to learn how to be a building contractor.” Ledford’s father was a carpenter, and Ledford planned to follow in his footsteps by getting his contracting license. “One afternoon an army recruiter came by and talked to us,” says Ledford, “and he had such a great presentation that me and my friend both signed up immediately.”
Ledford went through basic training and military police training as a National Guard army recruit and then went to work for the Police Department in Franklin, NC, about 60 miles west of Asheville. “I had a whole different career outlined, but when I went to military police school,” says Ledford, “Well, this is for me.”
Eight years ago, Ledford was selected as Mint Hill’s chief of police from over 100 applicants. As the Chief of Police, he leads a diverse department of 35 sworn police officers and 3 civilians. Most of Mint Hill’s officers are young, but Ledford employs about ten individuals with over ten years of experience.
The average Mint Hill citizen may not know everything the police department does for the town of Mint Hill. “There’s a whole lot more to it than just writing tickets,” says Ledford. “It’s not all about how many citations we can write.” Last year the Mint Hill Police department responded to over 19,000 calls for service. Many of these calls revolve around traffic enforcement: speeding, running stop signs, passing a stopped school bus, and reckless driving, for example. “We do a lot of positive interaction that no one ever hears about,” says Ledford, like searching for missing children, addressing animal complaints and dealing with homelessness.
The most common calls for service, says Ledford, are vehicle break ins. Ledford’s advice? Lock your doors. Upon investigation, the officers often find that the perpetrators are not Mint Hill residents but rather people from out of town who go through neighborhoods looking for unlocked cars.
As for those dreaded traffic citations, “My philosophy is it should be an educational experience,” says Ledford. “If we can have a more positive interaction and do some education during the traffic stop, that’s what I see law enforcement being all about.”
Positive interaction is a priority for Ledford as Chief of Police. One of his main goals for the police department is to get more involved with the community. The Mint Hill Police Department recently partnered with New Beginnings Church for an outreach meeting attended by over 300 people. After the church service, Ledford, an officer from Matthews and two Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department officers answered questions about the police department and how they do things. “We had probably 40 or 50 people who stood up and asked questions,” says Ledford. “It was very positive. The pastor over there was a very positive individual, had a lot of support for law enforcement.”
Ledford hopes to continue this partnership with New Beginnings and expand on it in the future. He plans to meet with the pastor next week to discuss opportunities to collaborate and move forward. One of Ledford’s goals is to establish a sports team for the community’s youth. He believes a police-sponsored sports team would give young people in the area something to look forward to as well as an opportunity to interact with law enforcement in a positive and friendly environment.
Ledford prioritizes building a positive relationship with Mint Hill’s youth and minorities, who may have had primarily negative experiences with law enforcement in the past. “Every time they interact with a police officer it’s usually because someone’s called to complain about something they’re doing,” says Ledford. “If they know us and they’ve dealt with us in a positive interaction, if we have to deal with them during a negative interaction . . . we can hope for a more positive outcome.”
Ledford has been overwhelmed with the support the public has shown for the Mint Hill Police Department in recent weeks. For the last few weeks, citizens have been stopping by to say thank you and bringing food items, cards and letters. “Mint Hill, they support their police department,” says Ledford. “I’m just overwhelmed by the support we get. That’s why I got into police work. I feel like if we can do something to help the public, then we’ve done our job.”
For citizens who want to show even more support for the police department, Ledford recommends they apply to attend the next Citizens Academy, a 9-10 week program for any citizen in and around Mint Hill. Through the academy, police officers educate citizens on things like how they do investigations and traffic enforcement, how to identify certain types of drugs, the court system and criminal law, and the training process for police officers. “When you graduate the academy, you kind of got an insight of what it takes to be a police officer,” says Ledford. “ A lot of people don’t know everything the police officers have to be trained to do and how much we have to know behind the scenes . . . They see us out here as writing tickets. That’s what police officers do. And they come out and they investigate if something gets broken into. But there’s so much more about being a police officer.”
The next Citizens Academy begins August 16. Interested citizens can come by the police department to fill out an application.