Burnis Wilkins, sheriff’s candidate

1. What uniquely qualifies you to serve as sheriff of Robeson County?

I served as chief of detectives of the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, which is the third in command of the entire office. During that tenure, I responded to and assisted with over 50 murder scenes and also led a division of detectives that were able to solve two cold case murders. I along with the sheriff and chief deputy would meet to discuss budgeting each year as it related to the entire department. I am familiar with each division of the office. I have taught 99 percent of the deputies in that office as I am a training coordinator for Robeson Community College and have been a part-time law enforcement instructor since 1986. I am very familiar with civil process, drug/vice investigations, homicide investigations, white collar crimes, National Incident Management System, terrorism, active shooter response and much more. I have supervised staff in excess of 16 years of my 36-year career. I have the trust and confidence of the state and federal governments and will be able to secure their assistance in combating our crime issues.

2. Robeson County routinely ranks at the top of crime, both violent and property, in North Carolina. What would you do on the front end in order to try to prevent crime from occurring? (Please be specific)

Drugs are the root cause of most property and violent crime throughout our county. I have plans in place to set up a dual county/multi agency gang and drug task force. This team would be comprised of 20 officers and would seek out drug dealers at all levels that continue to wreak havoc on our county. These dealers are the cause of prostitution and drug addiction. The prostitute seeks out men for cash to purchase drugs due to addiction. The break-ins and larcenies that occur are again related to the fact that the items stolen are traded to a drug dealer or pawned to purchase drugs. An aggressive yet professional approach would be implemented in tackling our county drug problems, which would in turn lowers crime rates as it pertains to the crimes mentioned. Other crime prevention techniques would include outreach programs such as my planned Kid Cadet & Kops & Kids Programs. These programs would target at-risk youth through parental permission, teen court participation or court ordered attendance. Deputies and/or detention staff would be utilized as mentors in hopes of keeping youth on the path to success.

3. What is your perception of the quality of resources that are available to the Sheriff’s Office, in terms of patrol cars, weaponry, the things that are needed to equip deputies? If there is a problem, what would you do to secure funding to remedy it?

Some of the equipment at the Sheriff’s Office is dated and in need of replacement. While it can be expensive to do so, it is a necessity as many of these items are what protects our deputies daily in the line of duty. I have personally seen patrol cars with over 300,000 miles on them. This is not only dangerous to the deputy and motoring public, but this could also be a huge liability on the county. There needs to be a schedule of purchase for vehicle replacement each year much like the schedule that exist for bullet proof vest replacement. Weapon replacement is also a necessity but should be done on pre-set scheduling so as not to burden the county with the expense all at once. Much of this cost could be absorbed by utilizing funds from question No. 4.

4. One of the hangovers from Operation Tarnished Badge has been that the county is no longer eligible to share in assets that are claimed through drug arrests, especially off Interstate 95. This money can be used to equip the Sheriff’s Office. What would you do to try to recapture that ability?

I have a trusted relationship with the United States Attorney’s Office. I have worked hand in hand with the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a drug investigator and as special deputy United States marshal. I have presented cases under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and have attended hundreds of hours of training with the task force. This relationship was further strengthened while I was working with Lumberton police as we had an Interdiction Team that was formed after the Tarnish Badge Investigation concluded. I established the written policy for the Lumberton Police Interdiction Team that was approved by the then U.S. attorney. While at the Lumberton Police Department, the interdiction team and I were able to submit thousands of dollars of seized assets and drugs to federal authorities with successful outcomes. My plan is to re-establish an interdiction task force along I-95 and I-74 utilizing agencies whose jurisdiction are along these highways. History has shown that these assets, when seized legally, are very helpful to the department as it assists with equipment needs at no expense to the taxpayer.

5. Would you have a full-time position for a public relations person, someone who would primarily deal with the media as well as the public when there are concerns? Why or why not?

I have a plan in place to utilize a Public Information Officer in several roles within the department. The PIO under my direction would also be my link to communication with not only the press but the public as well. When we have felony crimes occur or scams occur, my plan would be to put the info out on social media as soon as possible to real time to alert the public a crime has taken place. Utilizing social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., would get the word out quickly across the county. This would be very helpful, especially when we have suspect and/or vehicle descriptions or if we have video provided by a victim.

6. What do you see as the No. 1 failing of the previous sheriff? (Assuming you believe there is one) What would you do better in that regard?

I don’t really see a “failing” of the current sheriff. I would bring forth much change and new ideas that have been time tested. I appreciate the service of more than 40 years of Sheriff Ken Sealey but I feel new ideas and concepts could be utilized to better serve the county as a whole.

7. Robeson County is the most diverse county in the state of North Carolina. If elected, what specifically will your office do to ensure that all citizens are treated equally and without bias toward race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, age, genetic information, military service, or disability?

It would start with hiring practices. Thorough background investigations would be conducted by trained background investigators from the training division within the Sheriff’s Office. Training would be a priority within my department as well. Continuing education would be mandated as it relates to diversity and many other topics. Performance evaluations would be used to address potential weaknesses in certain areas. If problems exist, training and other means would be used to make a better public servant for all. Public service is a calling and my employees will respect and serve all citizens with pride.

8. What are the greatest challenges that you foresee facing the office of the sheriff of Robeson County in the foreseeable future? How do you plan to meet those challenges?

I believe the greatest challenges forthcoming will be how to handle the ever changing world of technology. As technology changes in the civilian world, law enforcement needs to keep up with it. The issues will be how do we pay for it. As one of the poorest counties in the state but with one of the highest crime rates in the state, the challenge will be to get funding to keep our deputies equipped with modern technology. I foresee the need to forge positive relationships with state and federal officials in an attempt to receive grants and other funding. We all have learned to do more with less, but in some cases our lives depend on the equipment we have. Also, I see the challenge of bringing our people together as a whole. Many citizens allow politics and rumors to divide us. I will work to be a sheriff of all the people on every end of this county in hopes of bringing harmony amongst us all.

9. How do you believe your approach to running the office of sheriff, if you were elected, would differ from that of your opponents?

My approach to running the department will be different as I plan to be a boots-on-the-ground sheriff. I have the experience of running a Sheriff’s Office and have more training, qualifications and certifications than any of my opponents. I have worked in public service since the age of 16, starting as a dispatcher, working my way up into several supervisory roles. I have participated in numerous multi-million dollar budget workshops, thus having experience as an administrator and as a sworn law enforcement officer. The personnel of the office will respect the sheriff more as a supervisor that has “been there, done that.” I don’t pretend to know everything, but I do know my working knowledge of the criminal laws of North Carolina far exceed those of my opponents which will better serve all citizens in the county. My staff will become the best trained law enforcement officers in eastern North Carolina to better serve you.

Question to myself: Do you have any limitations that would limit your access to the assistance of state and federal authorities?

No. I have a trusted working relationship with the state and federal government. In saying that, I have no restrictions in testifying in court and have never had my credibility questioned. I have built my reputation in law enforcement by treating all persons with the respect and dignity I would expect my family member to receive. I have served as a city, county, state and federal officer and forged relationships in each of these that will be crucial in cleaning up our county.