04/05/09 — Police chief gets same day call from Biden

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Police chief gets same day call from Biden

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on April 5, 2009 2:00 AM

PIKEVILLE -- Pikeville Police Chief Pascal Tucker had thought about asking federal officials directly for assistance for his department.

But he could never had guessed that Vice President Joe Biden would take a personal interest in helping.

Biden's visit to Pikeville last week gave Tucker an opportunity to get the vice president's ear and he made the most of it.

For Pikeville, it could mean federal stimulus money for new police cars. At least, that is what Tucker hopes.

The chief had been considering for months sending a letter to Washington, describing the plight of his and other small police departments that struggle to maintain adequate equipment.

He even had the letter typed and saved on his computer.

When he learned Biden would visit, he printed it out. And when the vice president and his entourage arrived, Tucker gave the letter to an aide.

The letter read, "Mr. Vice President, thanks for visiting Pikeville, N.C. I'm sure the fire department personnel were very pleased and are looking forward to breaking ground for their new building.

"My concern is closer to my heart -- the small police departments. Often times, smaller police departments, 10 officers or less, are very dependent on federal and state grants. Earlier this year, we learned a state grant we applied for would not be awarded because of budget cuts. Please know, I understand budget cuts, and we want to do our part."

The grant request the department was refused would have been for up to $40,000 from the North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Program. It would have been more than enough for a new patrol car. Most of the department's vehicles have upwards of 90,000 miles on them, Tucker said, and some have much higher mileage.

The letter continued, "I'd just like to ask that future consideration be given to smaller police departments throughout the country. We still have the big city problems, just on a smaller scale.

"We'd just like to be better equipped to better serve the great communities we live and work in."

Somehow, amid all the hoopla, Biden read the letter before he left.

Tucker was standing outside, talking to other law officers, when someone called out to him from Town Hall that he had a phone call.

"They told me it was the vice president," he said. "I thought it was an April Fool's joke."

So he went into his office, expecting someone to say "Gotcha," once he said, "Hello."

But then he heard Biden's voice.

"I had met him earlier. Our department took a picture with him. So I knew what his voice sounded like," Tucker said. The vice president called him from the fire station, just a few doors down.

The phone call didn't last very long, "about four minutes," but Tucker said he was impressed.

"(Biden) was very personable," he said.

The nation's second-in-command asked Tucker about the grant the department didn't receive.

"And then he told me that he really has a passion to help law enforcement. He said there was money available in the stimulus for law enforcement," Tucker said.

Biden went on to tell Tucker that someone from his Office of Domestic Policy would be in touch with him.

And the next day, about 1:30 in the afternoon, the call came.

"It amazed me," Tucker said.

He said he didn't expect Biden's office to follow up so fast. Vice presidential staff members told the chief they would look into why the grant was denied and would try to find ways to help.

The same people told Tucker that he would hear more from them this week.

The chief said he is still bewildered that the vice president took such a personal interest in his department's needs..

"It all has happened so fast," he said. "I'm happy that he called me. I'm still excited. I took a chance -- I didn't know it would make it into his hands. And it did.

"I'm just pleased to see them really working the stimulus."