Ronnie Patterson, sheriff’s candidate

Ronnie Patterson

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

Each of the candidates for sheriff has their own special qualities, which means that we all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses. My strengths far outweigh any weaknesses. I have 29 years of law enforcement work with the last eight as chief of police in the town of Red Springs. I am the only candidate to head a law enforcement department top to bottom. That means I’ve done yearly budgets, justified those budgets before the mayor and town commissioners, written and won grants for our department, hired and fired department employees when necessary, and mentored several police chiefs in nine different counties.

Since becoming chief in Red Springs the crime rate has gone down, unlike the crime rate in the county. How and why did that happen? Because I have experience, the training and the ability to lead by example. My officers believe in me, so they work harder to get the job done. I have compassion for all people, even those who don’t always abide by the law. That just means that I will be fair to them, but it also means that I’ll be firm with them. I see the position of sheriff of Robeson County not as a job, but as a profession. The sheriff’s department needs a leader now, a proven professional leader, and not someone that needs “on the job training.” I am that leader. I want to be your sheriff. I want to be the sheriff of all of Robeson County.

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.

To start with, we will never be able to arrest our way of the crime problem in Robeson County. We’d need football fields to house them all. That approach hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work today, in spite of a lot people who say otherwise.

The top three crime problems in Robeson County are: drugs, drugs and drugs. That’s how big the problem is in our county. In the short run, I intend to make life miserable for drug dealers. Drug dealers need to go to prison, and the sooner, the better. Drug users are addicted and need treatment; they need diversion programs, too. My plan includes arresting drug dealers when we can, and when we can’t, then stationing officers at the drug house locations until the sales stop. If the drug dealer moves, we’ll follow them and do the same at the next location. This is not rocket science but it does require hard work that is dangerous work. It can be done; it must be done. I can do it!

The major cause of drug use is lack of opportunity in Robeson County. Lack of opportunity leads to hopelessness and to despair, and both contribute greatly to the drug problem. Without a decent education or job training, jobs are scarce. This drug problem can’t be solved by the sheriff’s department, alone. It will take everyone in our county working together. People who don’t have jobs, still have needs, and far too many of them resort to criminal activity and drugs to satisfy those needs.

I intend to change the way things have been done in the sheriff’s department. The sheriff’s department is the “police force for the county,” the entire county, not just where it’s convenient to be. We will not be “traffic cops.” Deputies will live in the various communities and become a part of those communities. They will get to know you and you will get to know them. With your help, your information, and your tips, deputies will be better able to solve crimes, and hopefully prevent many crimes from occurring. A community effort to fight crime is absolutely necessary. Together we can make a difference.

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?

Inadequate funding is not just a perception, it is real. Our county commissioners fund the sheriff’s department from the taxes paid by the citizens of our county. In the end, we will have the kind of sheriff’s department that the commissioners choose to fund. The sheriff’s department competes with all the other county functions for funding, therefore adequate funding is always an issue. The commissioners decide how many deputies the department will have. I will immediately petition the commissioners for greater funding and more deputies. I have eight years of experience preparing budgets and justifying those budgets. If we don’t get more funding, then we will do whatever it takes to get the job done to make Robeson County safer. I helped obtain several grants for the town of Red Springs. I can do that for the county. If it comes to it, in order to get the job done, we will do more with less.

It’s shocking to know the real cost of operating our overcrowded jail. Some inmates are serving short sentences, but most are there awaiting trials. Many inmates have been there for years, even up to four years awaiting trial. At a cost of roughly $100 per day, that’s almost $150,000 for a four-year stay in the jail. There has to be a better way to run the court system and the jail, too. We can save lots of money by speeding up trials. I will work with the new district attorney to make that happen.

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 promise you, the citizens of Robeson County, I can get our sheriff’s department back to participating in the Federal Asset Forfeiture program, if that is in our best interest. Stopping the flow of illegal drugs is my No. 1 priority. Figuring out the best way to stop the drugs is the question. The asset forfeiture program is very controversial. Just ask the gentleman from Fairmont who had $107,000 taken from his bank account for months without any charges being brought and then had to spend $20,000 in lawyer fees to get his money back. The program is also subject to abuse, as was the case in Tarnished Badge. When I’m elected sheriff, I’ll form a group of knowledgeable residents, officers and other experts in the field to assess whether or not stationing teams of deputies on I-95 is the best use of taxpayer money or the best way to protect Robeson County. Based on those findings and recommendations, I’ll then make a determination regarding the program.

This I know. When my deputies make a stop that is a legal stop, and find contraband of any kind, not only will the contraband be seized, but also any money found during the stop will be seized, properly held and accounted for until trial. The courts will ultimately decide what happens to the money if the arrested person is found guilty. That’s the way it was always done before this asset forfeiture program started. From my training I understand that fines and forfeitures in the court system are supposed to go to the school system, according to the North Carolina Constitution. I will follow the law and the court’s instructions.

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?

Transparency in the operation of the sheriff’s department is important to everyone, regardless of which side of the case you may be on. I promise the citizens of Robeson County and the press that I will operate the office in a transparent way. I’ll be honest with you and accessible to you. As soon as practical, I will appoint a person in the department as the media contact person. That position will not be a full time media position as we don’t need a full time media person and we can’t afford to full time media person. That person will have other duties in the sheriff’s department.

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?

For the record, criticizing the retiring sheriff is not easy, especially given that there will be some necessary “overlapping of duties” during the transition period. Even so, I will attempt to address the question. There are a number of issues.

— Crime has increased during the current sheriff’s tenure. How and why?

— Numerous drug houses and other locations continue to operate in just about every community in the county. The nearby residents know where the sites are located. They complain but they continue to operate. How and why?

— Electronic sweepstakes “casinos” are taking over our county, and our towns, too. The sheriff’s department has to take the lead on this problem; otherwise it’s a game of “whack-a-mole.” Close them down in town and they move into the county. There has to be a unified effort of all police departments and the sheriff’s department if we’re serious about addressing this problem. As your new sheriff I intend to address this issue and I intend to enforce the law.

— Our citizens are troubled by deputy lengthy response times. The response time must be quicker.

— Citizen complaints about officers’ failure to follow-up after initial calls. How and why? As your sheriff, I promise that my deputies will keep crime victims informed as to the status of their cases.

I promise you that I can and will do something about each of these situations. I know what will work, and if we try it and it doesn’t work, then we’ll come up with a plan that does work.

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?

When elected as your sheriff one of the first things that I’ll do is a personnel inventory. The purpose of the inventory is to determine who is employed by the department by race, sex, age and where they live in the county. My goal is to make the sheriff’s department “mirror our county.” In other words, I intend to make the department look like the people it serves, and that includes Hispanics, too. There are well qualified law enforcement officers of all races and sexes looking for employment. If they are not already in our department, I’ll recruit them. We should be proud of our diversity, especially our racial diversity. Few other places can match us. Our diversity should make us a stronger county and make us a safer county.

All sheriff’s department employees will be required to take regular diversity training. To ensure better outcomes, I’ll form a civilian oversight committee to assist me and the department in addressing diversity issues, in an effort to stay ahead of potential problems. Other than fighting crime, recruiting, hiring and retaining a well-trained and diverse sheriff’s department is crucial to making our county safer. I am committed to diversity.

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

Robeson County is unique and unlike any other place in the world in some respects, but on the other hand, it’s just like any number of other places that have the same kind of problems that we have here. Regrettably, it seems that we here in Robeson County have more than our share of problems. The challenge facing the next sheriff is where to begin. Which problem do we tackle first? As I said earlier, illegal drugs and drug use is the biggest problem in Robeson County. As your next sheriff, I intend to use a different approach to fight this problem. The current strategy is not working. If what has been done in the past is a “war on drugs,” then we’ve lost that war. Please keep in mind that fighting the drug problem requires a commitment from many other groups, not just law enforcement. Law enforcement can’t do it alone. Obviously, more money is needed for law enforcement and especially for treatment programs, in order to start digging ourselves out of this hole that we find Robeson County in. Our federal government must provide funding to assist communities like ours. Only the federal government has the ability to keep illegal drugs out of our nation, and they have failed to do that. The federal government carelessly allowed drug makers to “push” opioids as harmless pain killers, thereby enriching the drug companies, without proper oversight. The end result is easy access to both illegal drugs and to highly addictive legal drugs.

Drugs, both legal and illegal, are at the root of most of the other crime in Robeson County. The more we solve the drug problem, the more we solve the “crime” problem. That is the challenge.

Other challenges: trial court backlog contributing to an over-crowed jail, lack of drug treatment programs, repeat offenders, lack of departmental funding, and recruitment and retention of officers.

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

If you are satisfied with the way the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department is currently operating, then you should vote for one of the other candidates. Why? Because I intend to change the way things have always been done. I intend to change for the better the way the department operates. We have to fight crime better and smarter, but respecting the rights of everyone while doing so. I will bring that new approach. We reduced crime in Red Springs during my tenure as chief of police. I can do that in our county. Again, I’m the only candidate who has headed up a full law enforcement department. I have a proven record of achievement. I promise to change the “status quo.”

Upon taking office one of the first things I’ll do is have a detailed audit of the sheriff’s department completed, hopefully using outside auditors. It will cover all financial accounts and property inventory, as well as all positions within the department, including duties and salaries. With that information, I will make changes accordingly. Those changes will make our county better and safer.

10. Question to myself: Why am I running for Sheriff of Robeson County?

This may be the easiest question but it’s the most important question of all. It cannot be answered in just a few lines; it’s much more complicated than that. My first response is that I’m running for sheriff because I want to make a difference in our county. I want to make our county safer. I can make our county safer. Robeson is my home, my family’s home, and your home, too. Robeson County has all kinds of good things going for it but the bad news seems to outweigh the good, and we’ve had far too much bad news lately. Robeson County is not a bad place. It really and truly is a good place to live, work and raise a family, but we do have our problems. As your sheriff I promise you that I can help you solve many of these problems, and together we can make Robeson County an even better place by making it safer. I’ve been preparing for this challenge in my life for many years. I not only believe that I can make a positive difference in our county, I know that I can.

The latest census figures show Robeson County has about 133,000 residents, 26 percent white, 24 percent black, 41 percent American Indian, and 9 percent others, primarily Hispanic. That means 74 percent of Robeson County residents are minorities. That makes the minority the real majority in Robeson County. The question then becomes who will control our sheriff’s department or maybe the better question is who is worried about losing control of the sheriff’s department. This is 2018 we’re living in, not the 50’s or 60’s. The time has come in Robeson County to elect a qualified person as sheriff who happens to be minority. The time has come for our sheriff’s department, and especially the head of the department, to look more like the people being served. I am that qualified person to be the next sheriff of this great county. If not now, when? I urge you to be on the right side of history and elect Ronnie Patterson as your next sheriff of Robeson County.

Thank you and I appreciate each of you.