3 deputies to patrol at North Carolina Zoo

RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. -- Three deputies from the Randolph County Sheriff's Office will be a part of the large Easter crowds that mark the beginning of the tourist season at the North Carolina Zoo.

"They are just here to monitor the situations," Public Relations Officer Debbie Fuchs said. "If we need them, they are here. But their primary role is security."

The zoo and the Randolph County Sheriff's Office have been looking at enhancing the zoo's security since 2015. The zoo uses park rangers that guard the park 24 hours a day. But Randolph County Sheriff Robert Graves points out that the rangers are ready for medical emergencies, not security detail.

"They didn't have anyone sworn as a law enforcement officer that didn't have the ability to take law enforcement action," Graves said.

The zoo and the sheriff's office signed a three-year contact. Beginning this week, the zoo will cover salaries and benefits while the deputies patrol by foot and by car. Graves adds it's not unusual for popular attractions to use trained law enforcement agents.

"Look at our national parks or state parks," Graves said. "They have law enforcement-trained rangers and they always had them there."

Fuchs believes the sheriff's deputies will be a valuable asset during the busy season.

"We have over 800,000 visitors every year," Fuchs said. "And on busy holidays like Easter, we can see as many as 15,000 visitors come through the gates."

Tori Thomas was a part of a group that was visiting the zoo. She feels the three Randolph County sheriff's deputies will provide an extra layer of comfort and protection.

"I like it, it's very secure," Thomas said.