By Pete Zamplas
Hendersonville – Herbert Blake, Hendersonville Police Chief for the past dozen years, is suddenly the Buncombe County sheriff’s second in command.
He is the chief deputy sheriff under Buncombe Sheriff Quentin Miller, officially taking office on Monday, Aug. 24. Blake’s last day as Hendersonville chief will be this Friday, Aug. 21. He has served as local police chief since Jan. 2, 2008. Blake served 18 years in the Navy and has nearly 26 years of full-time law enforcement experience, a criminal justice administration degree and master’s in management.
City of Hendersonville officials hope to choose an interim chief as early as this week. Hendersonville has had much continuity at the helm of its police. Donnie Parks was Hendersonville police chief for 20 years — 1987-2007. Parks and Blake are black, as is the Buncombe sheriff.
Blake joins a force ten times larger in personnel numbers — 435, compared to 43 in Hendersonville Police, he said.
Buncombe’s chief deputy vacancy arose from Don Eberhardt’s resignation. Eberhardt was reportedly suspended April 24 and indicted July 6 by a grand jury, facing one felonious count each of larceny and possession of stolen goods in connection with an alleged store gun theft in South Asheville.
Blake arrives with impeccable credentials for integrity and professionalism. “Chief Blake has led the Hendersonville P.D. in a professional and responsive manner for the last 12 (and a half) years,” Sheriff Miller said in a news release. He called Blake “well-respected and appreciated.”
Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller lauded Blake’s molding of de-escalation in dealing with potentially violent protests this year and reduction in forceable responses in emergency calls.
Miller praised HPD’s ban on chokeholds and strangleholds. new “duty to intervene” policy, and as Miller words it “comprehensive reporting of use of force, including any physical contact or presentation of a weapon.”
In a step of transparency and two-way (police, civilians) accountability, Blake in recent years required operation of a body camera on each Hendersonville police officer out in the field.
“The video camera gives us a complete story, to tell us what actually happened,” Blake told The Tribune. “The officers embraced it, and welcomed it — immediately.” He said video proof squelched a few “complaints” against police, and as a result “no claim of police brutality has ended up in court.”
Blake welcomes helping Buncombe deputies make a “positive difference” during “this important (civil rights) time in society.”
Blake strongly expressed his general strategy to The Tribune, for handling Black Lives Matter or other protests. “We are not going to agitate the situation, by getting heavy-handed and overly controlling. That can lead to people pushing back, and responding” violently. “A verbal altercation can lead to physical altercation — between opposing groups” at the same site, or protestors versus officers.
Restraint is extra challenging for officers, if baited and berated by protestors. “I tell my officers that protestors are not professionals. We are,” Blake said. “We’re expected to behave in a professional manner.” That is part of the “overall culture we nurtured” at HPD.
Bolstering restraint is reassurance “the vast majority of people everywhere supports and appreciates law enforcement,” Blake said. The population is 235,000 in Buncombe, over 75,000 in Asheville where the most testy protests have occurred and handled by Asheville police, he noted. He called anti-police protestors a “small drop in the bucket” the numbers (he estimated 200 to 500). “We won’t let a couple hundred people spoil it. We know that 99.9 percent of citizens support us.”
Similarly, he said, “there are so few bad officers” among the 800,000 officers across the country who use excessive force.
Balancing officers’ restraint is drawing the line against violent behavior, Blake said. “We will not allow any criminal activity.” At his insistence, the few recent BLM rallies in Hendersonville were on the police station lot instead of in front of the Historic Courthouse. “We could control crowd better there.” Videos posted on social media showed those protests stayed peaceful.
Ron Kauffman praises security of HPD and other local agencies. He is founder and president of Stand T.A.L.L. (Thank a Local Lawman). Then citizens non-profit has assisted the various law enforcement agencies with Henderson County. He plans a “Back the Blue” rally in Hendersonville in mid-November.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if agitators — local or outsiders — showed up at a lawful and permitted event and violated the law or the rights of others,” Kauffman said, “that the actions of law enforcement from any local department would be appropriate, legal, swift and very decisive.”
He said “civil disobedience” protestors have been “peaceful and respectful,” non-confrontational, and showed “respect for property and businesses.”
Also, Kauffman said, “HPD was there more as ready observers than intrusive security.”
Blake’s many initiatives include starting On Duty podcasts, a motor bike unit, assigning an officer to patrol the downtown business district, an HPD online application, monthly statistical reports, and hosting a yearly awards program. He expanded community policing, officer diversity, and police dog usage.
Whenever Stand T.A.L.L. helps fund police needs, Kauffman said, Blake has been “extremely appreciative.” He said Blake gives “thoughtful consideration of the facts” before deciding on spending or policies. “Chief Blake has left his mark, having built a respected, solid organization,” Kauffman said. “He will be missed.”