A budget conflict came to a head in Johnson County, NC yesterday, when the police chief demanded more money for fuel, or else police would have to stop responding to some 911 calls and investigating misdemeanors.

The Smithfield police department, just outside Raleigh, has difficulty dealing with rising fuel costs after experiencing budget cuts over the last few years. The lack of funding for fueling patrol cars already forced the department to reduce its number of patrols, and this, they say, caused crime to increase.

Police Chief, Michael Scott, pointed to three different crimes that could have been prevented recently with more patrols, including the armed robbery of a convenience store, a theft of tires and rims from a car dealership, and a major cocaine bust. “Those things can all be directly related to patrol issues,” Scott said.

He also stated that citizens have asked the department if they should buy guns to protect themselves, since the number of patrol cars on the street has been reduced by half.

When Smithfield council members balked at Scott’s request to shift funds in his budget to cover fuel costs in October, the chief came up with a proposal to reduce other costs to stay within the budget. He proposed having detectives only investigate felony crimes and drop misdemeanors after the initial report is complete. He also proposed ignoring 911 calls from hotels and pay phones when callers hang up and not responding to burglar alarms, which are usually false. His proposal also stated that officers would stop patrolling the western and southern ends of town, where the crimes are often non-violent.

After hearing Scott’s proposal in a meeting on Tuesday, the town council agreed to provide the department with the tools it needs to maintain services for citizens and approved the chief’s request to shift funds from other line items in his budget. The department will now have an additional $30,900 for fuel so it can continue to investigate crimes and respond to 911 calls.

“There’s no question that we need to provide them with the tools to keep the safety of the town,” said councilman Perry Harris, after hearing the proposal.