Maggie's Chief Sutton to retire
When Scott Sutton joined the Maggie Valley police force, he was just 20 years old, fresh out of police training, and only the third officer employed on the force. Next month he retires as the town’s police chief to take on a new role.
Having spent his entire career at the Maggie Valley Police department, Sutton has witnessed many changes over the years.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Maggie’s first police chief I.C. Sutton, Scott Sutton has served the town almost from its earliest days, rising through the ranks to eventually become the town’s third chief following the retirement of current Mayor Saralyn Price as chief.
Back in the early days, Scott Sutton, Saralyn Price, and I.C. Sutton were the town’s only officers when the town didn't have coverage around the clock. The police department did not go to a full service, 24/7 department until Price’s tenure as chief.
Scott Sutton said that when he joined the force, the annual budget was around $50,000 per year. It has since grown to an over $1 million annual budget.
In the early days, Ghost Town in the Sky was bustling throughout the summer and the two-lane road into town was always congested during the tourist season, he said.
Officer’s duties were typical of what they are today, except that communications and resources were quite a bit different. Everything was radio-based back then, there were no cell phones or in-car computers.
Technology, said Sutton is one of the biggest changes he has seen in his tenure.
Today’s police cars are complete mobile offices, wirelessly connected to vast databases of information that were unavailable just 10 years ago.
The cars are also equipped with high-tech cameras that continuously record video and upload it automatically to servers. New technologies have greatly enhanced the officers’ efficiency, he said.
“Now we can search warrants almost instantly. Back then, we had to radio in to the sheriff’s office. We relied on them a lot in those days,” he said.
With increased technology also come new laws and regulations and therefore longer training periods. Sutton, who has taught Basic Law Enforcement Training at Haywood Community College for many years, said that when he took the course, training encompassed around 400 hours, not including advanced trainings. Today the course is around 700 hours.
Sutton said that in the early days of his career, he almost always dealt with people he knew. The citizens he served were friends, neighbors, classmates and acquaintances. Today, that’s not always the case.
As often as they are called to assist old friends and neighbors, today’s officers serve newcomers to the region, he said.
The types of cases officers handle today have also changed a great deal, Sutton said.
In days gone by, many calls involved some type of dispute, often times fueled by alcohol.
“Bar fights were common back then, but times have changed and that’s not really the case anymore,” he said.
Today, the biggest problem Maggie officers deal with on a regular basis is drug trafficking and related crimes.
“Most of what we deal with stems back to the drug crisis this county is dealing with. Almost everything is drug-driven,” he said.
“We’re going to continue to see issues with drugs for the foreseeable future. I don’t really see it getting better any time soon,” he said.
Part of the problem, he said, is the revolving door of the courthouse. Cases pile up, charges are dismissed, and frequent flyers are in and out so often, it can be difficult to keep up with the laundry list of charges some accrue.
Despite the difficulties he sees ahead for the county and whoever ultimately succeeds him, Sutton said he is pleased with all that has been accomplished during his career with the MVPD.
“I’ve done everything I set out to accomplish when I took over as chief. Change is good and I think it’s time for new leadership in Maggie,” he said.
One of his proudest accomplishments was the building of the modern police station in 2007.
“We completed a station that we can be proud of, that will serve the town well for years to come and we managed to do it for under $1 million. I think that’s a pretty good deal,” he said.
Sutton said that he pleased to be leaving the department in a stable position, with adequate staffing, equipment and facilities to meet the town’s needs.
“Right now things are in a good place. In the future, I can foresee needing to add a few patrol positions, but otherwise, things are well situated,” he said.
While Sutton is stepping down from his position with Maggie, he is not leaving the police world. He has accepted a new role at Haywood Community College as the coordinator of the new emergency services training center that will open this spring.
“I’m excited about this new opportunity. I’ll still be helping to train the next generation of Haywood officers and it presents new challenges for me ahead,” he said.
Sutton’s official retirement date isn’t until March 31, but he said the hiring process has already begun and town staff hope to have the new chief in place by mid-March to begin the transition process before Sutton leaves.
“I put my full trust in Nathan (Clark, town manager) and his staff to select the best candidate for the job. I know whoever they choose will put Maggie first and continue to serve our citizens well. We’ve enjoyed a good reputation statewide and I’d like to see that furthered,” he said.
“Doing things for the betterment of the community and not self is what matters most in this position,” he said.
Captain Russ Gilliland has worked under Sutton’s leadership for many years. He said that Sutton has always been a very considerate and accommodating leader.
“He takes a great interest in his officers. You can see how his management style is a lot like his father’s,” Gilliland said.
Gilliland said that during Sutton’s time as chief he has taken the department in a positive direction.
“He has made the decisions over the years that he needed to make to help us move forward and he will be missed,” he said.