Complaints from business owners and customers have Maggie Valley leaders asking if its police presence in the small tourist-oriented town is a bit overbearing.
Cruising along Soco Road — the single stripe along which Maggie Valley businesses have sprouted up — drivers are likely to see police cars camped out along the side of the road or in a parking lot.
While some find this fact comforting, other Maggie leaders and business owners argue that an overwhelming police presence in the valley deters possible consumers who fear that the cops are simply waiting to bust someone.
“There is a perception that it intimidates customers,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone during a meeting of Maggie leaders this month.
It is not just a perception; people are intimidated, chimed in Alderman Mike Matthews. Board members agreed, however, that cops mustn’t turn a blind eye and should enforce the law.
“Nobody is asking you to turn the cheek by any means,” Matthews said.
Although no one wants a lawbreaker to get away, some think that people shy away from Maggie Valley because they are afraid of being pulled over even if they are not speeding or driving drunk.
“They’ll be texting each other “Don’t go to Maggie. Don’t go to Maggie,’” Matthews said.
Chief Scott Sutton said he had not heard the same concerns. Visitors to the valley like to see cops out and about, patrolling the town, Sutton said.
“It don’t bother most people,” he said.
In fact, Sutton said, the police department will receive calls from a restaurant or a bar, asking the cops to show up around closing time to make sure the peace was kept.
“I can’t discourage my officers from doing their duties,” he said.
As far as drunken driving goes, DWI rates in Maggie are low, Sutton said. Most offenders are locals, he said. Others haven’t been out on the town in Maggie but are coming back from a show at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in Cherokee.
Alderwoman Saralyn Price, the former town police chief, said that the officers are not picking on particular businesses but rather parking in a favorite spot or in the most convenient place.
“You are going to pull over in the easiest place,” Price said.
The aldermen and mayor made it clear that they, too, do not want the police to start shirking their responsibility, but DeSimone suggested that the town use some unmarked cop cars, which would allow police officers to continue to monitor the valley conspicuously.
“Nobody is complaining that you are pulling over people who are drunk or speeding,” DeSimone said. “We don’t want you to be less effective.”
The mayor also proposed fiddling with the police department’s patrol schedule, ensuring that a couple of cops are watching Soco Road while others make the rounds through residential areas — a circuit that takes 3 hours and 20 minutes to complete.
The aldermen said they brought the concern to Sutton after hearing complaints from business owners — but one alderman stated that the talk might not have not taken place if Maggie Valley businesses were not experiencing hardship as a result of the recession.
“If this was five years ago … then we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Matthews said.
Like the town leaders, business owners had mixed feelings about the fuzz in Maggie Valley.
Steve Hurley, owner of Hurley’s Creekside Dining & Rhum Bar, said he has not heard any patrons protest about the number of patrol cars along Soco Road.
“It’s never affected me,” Hurley said. “I like having the cops around. I want them to be getting the drunk drivers.”
In regards to officers parking their vehicles near his business, Hurley replied that they have to park somewhere.
In contrast, a co-owner of Stingray’s said it is a chronic problem.
“Here is the feedback we hear: we don’t want to come to Maggie Valley because all the law does is sit around and wait on us,” said Nathan Hughes, Stingray’s owner. “That kills business. People get intimidated by that.”
The police need to find a happy medium, in which they continue to keep people safe but avoid scaring off potential customers, Hughes said.
Maggie has historically had an active bar scene. It was one of the first and only towns where liquor drinks were legal at bars. For nearly two decades, it was one of the only WNC towns west of Asheville where mixed drinks were sold, and revelers would bring their partying to Maggie as a result, setting a precedent of an active after-hours police presence.