First day of merger finds Sheriff's corporal searching for 'heartbeat of the city'

It was 10 a.m. when Cpl. Mark Trost (rhymes with ‘toast’) parked his car on the left shoulder of Baseline Street near the beginning of a construction zone in Cornelius. He watched to his right as two lanes of cars merged into one.

The longer he sat, the further back the cars began politely flipping on their blinkers to join the right NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: KATE STRINGER - Corporal Mark Trost takes photos of graffiti in an alleyway between houses during a patrol July 1. The Washington County Sheriffs Office began running Cornelius police services this month.

After about five minutes, Trost relocated to a heavily treed lot a dozen yards away, where he could watch the street out of sight of the merging autos. As expected, some drivers began barging past the lane of patiently waiting cars and cutting to the front of the line.

It’s an example of how the mere presence of a police car can have an impact on driver behavior, Trost said.

In this case, Trost was using a car from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, where he has been a corporal for the past six years.

Washington County deputies will be a more common presence on Cornelius streets, now that the sheriff’s office has taken over the city’s police services. Deputies will use a mix of Cornelius and Washington County uniforms and cars for two months while 13 Cornelius police officers receive county training to become deputies. After Sept. 1, all cars and uniforms will have the familiar Cornelius Police logo. Four of the 13 former Cornelius police officers will return to the city and the rest will serve elsewhere in the sheriff's office.

Trost said the biggest changes will likely be a greater law-enforcement presence in the city, whether at community events, or in foot or car patrols.

Trost is joined by Lt. Gene Moss, who will serve as chief, and Sgt. Al Roque as the three-tier leadership team. Ten additional deputies will police Cornelius for the next two NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: KATE STRINGER - Corporal Mark Trost takes photos of graffiti in an alleyway between houses during a patrol July 1. The Washington County Sheriffs Office began running Cornelius police services this month.

As Trost drove through the streets of Cornelius July 1, the first day of the merger, he occasionally glanced at the map on his bulky laptop, a red dot tracking the progress of his car. Even with the map, he said, he’s already becoming familiar with the city roads.

“I learned this spot right away,” Trost said, parking about 100 feet away from the railroad crossing at North 4th Avenue, where he’s observed cars rolling across the tracks without coming to a complete halt at the stop signs.

Trost has worked at the Sheriff’s Office for almost 13 years. The amount of space he’ll patrol will drastically shrink, from a county of 726 square miles to a city of two square miles. Despite this, he wanted to work in Cornelius after a similar experience when the sheriff’s office loaned him to Sherwood. There, he came in as an outsider but gained residents’ trust through foot patrols and face-to-face meetings.

He was already trying to repeat that last Tuesday morning, waving and greeting Cornelius residents as he drove through the streets.

It’s one of the best ways to feel the “heartbeat of the city,” he said.

After taking photos of fences marked with graffiti in a grassy alley between houses, Trost knocked on doors to hand out his card and let residents know they could contact him if they noticed additional graffiti.

“Breaking down barriers: that’s where we’re really going to excel,” Trost said. Residents will find it easier to tell deputies their concerns if they’ve developed a good rapport first, he added.

He plans on introducing himself to Cornelius business owners as well. Sometimes just sitting in a parking lot can help businesses, especially during hours when shoplifting increases, such as the early morning, lunchtime or before closing.

As Trost turned into the Walmart parking lot at about 10 a.m., he paused in front of a truck waiting to exit and rolled down his window. “Seatbelt!” he called, giving the thumbs-up after the driver pulled the belt across his chest. “Thanks, man!” Trost shouted.

Trost says he won’t always cite drivers when they’re doing something incorrect, as he sees his job in law enforcement as a way to educate rather than punish.

Because he is still a member of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Trost said he could still be called to assist outside of Cornelius. But this won’t affect policing services in Cornelius, as they’ll ensure enough people are always around to sufficiently cover the city, he said.

“Our goal is to make sure livability is great.”

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