N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--July 1998

Officer helps FBI track down fugitives

CHARLOTTE — Twenty hours each week, Sandy Epperson, chief probation/parole officer for Judicial District 26 in Mecklenburg County, leaves behind his office in the James K. Polk building and spends his time tracking down violent fugitives and solving bank robberies and child pornography cases.

As a member of the Charlotte Violent Fugitive Task Force, Epperson is a sworn Special Deputy U.S. Marshall helping to combat violent crime. He and 12 other members, including officers from the local sheriff’s department, police department and the F.B.I., all work together on this special F.B.I. task force to locate violent fugitives by utilizing their combined investigative resources.

"I believe a part of the decrease in violent crime in Mecklenburg County can be attributed to this task force," he said. "This cooperative effort between law enforcement has proven to be very successful."

A probation officer with the Division of Adult Probation and Parole since 1974, Epperson began working with the task

force in 1994 on a part-time basis. Over the past four years, he has helped solve several bank robberies, including the highly-publicized Loomis Fargo heist in Charlotte where the suspects were caught after spending large sums of money on cars, jewelry, luxury homes and cosmetic surgery.

"The Loomis Fargo case took a lot of time, but the F.B.I. moved quickly," he said. "Everything went like clockwork."

As exciting as working on the task force is for Epperson, he said his job as chief probation and parole officer always comes first.

"First and foremost, my job here comes first. We have more than 100 probation officers here in Mecklenburg County with between 10,000 and 11,000 individuals under some kind of supervision."

Epperson began his career with the department as a drug officer after seeing first-hand how drugs can destroy a person’s life while serving in the military in Vietnam. During the war, many of his fellow servicemen got hooked on drugs, including one of his very best friends.

"When I was in the military, I always believed that if you removed the drugs, then you would remove the problem," he said. "So I figured the same should be true for criminals."

However, during his years working as a probation officer, Epperson has found that his philosophy doesn’t always hold true.

"Often these people have other troubles than just drugs," he said. "Many of them also have mental and other more serious problems. As probation officers, our role is to give these people an opportunity to change. We can’t just lock everyone up. There has got to be something between prison and nothing."

After serving several years as a drug officer, Epperson became Mecklenburg County’s first intensive officer in 1983, a position he kept for 11 years before being promoted to chief probation/parole officer.

As chief probation/parole officer, Epperson is helping to coordinate a community policing program in Charlotte. He said eventually, the probation and parole officers will work within the police service bureau areas.

"Community policing boils down to making the streets safer," he said. "Both the police and the probation officers have information that the others don’t. By working together, they will be able to share this information."

Judicial District Manager James Russell said Epperson is an example of the efficiency and effectiveness that he requires of his staff. "He requires his staff to be professional and follow policies," he said. "He trains his staff in all aspects of the job and expects them to carry out their duties to perfection. He shows concern for his staff, yet still expects the most out of them."

Although most of his time is dedicated to his job and serving on the task force, Epperson said he does not mind. And luckily for him, his wife is also a probation officer, working for the federal government, so she knows all about the long hours the job entails.

"Our work consumes us," he said. "But I don’t mind working. It’s wonderful to have a job that you enjoy and get a check for. I feel satisfaction in that there needs to be a dedicated person in this position, and I am that." u