1. What uniquely qualifies you to serve as sheriff of Robeson County?
A sheriff is an administrator and a leader and I have more law enforcement, administrative experience than any of my competitors. I served as chief court counselor and court counselor supervisor, as well as working in the administration with the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office for the past six years. All of these are law enforcement positions which gives me a total of 38 years of law enforcement experience; 24 years of that experience was in some type of leadership or management capacity. I have a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in Administration and have taught in the Criminal Justice Department of UNCP as an adjunct professor. I completed the Supervision for Managers program with the North Carolina Personnel Department. I have worked with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies while serving as Internal Affairs investigator at the Sheriff’s Office. My experience in supervising employees, knowledge of employment practices and law gives me an understanding of managing an office with over 200 employees. I have dealt with the budget process for other agencies, which is important for a sheriff to be knowledgeable of. My communication skills and ability to work with department heads and law enforcement agencies have been assets throughout my career.
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.
The crime rate in Robeson County is driven primarily by our drug problem. I propose to develop an aggressive, cooperative effort with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to combat this issue. Saturated patrols will be assigned to high crime and drug-infested areas in the county where complaints from citizens are received. Additional drug agents are needed and presently, there is only one gang officer employed by the Sheriff’s Office. There are grants available through the Department of Justice to add additional gang positions. Cooperative efforts with each of the municipalities through a drug task force initiative will be implemented as the crime rate in these municipalities are consistently higher, thus making the county crime rate even higher. I will provide our drug officers with the latest training available as well as make sure that they have the latest equipment possible. We would fund this training and equipment through grants which are available.
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?
This is a difficult issue for the present sheriff and the Board of Commissioners due to our county tax base. The Sheriff’s Office does well with the funding that is appropriated. However, I will aggressively seek new funding streams through available grants to provide the necessary resources to protect our citizens as well as the officers who are putting their lives on the line each day. Presently, deputies are assigned high mileage vehicles that may or may not be safe to operate at high speeds. With the cooperation of the county administration, I would like to explore the feasibility of leasing vehicles and whether this is financially practical.
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?
While employed at the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with the U.S. assistant district attorney and learn much of the criteria necessary to rejoin the program and share in the assets. This is vital to the Sheriff’s Office in providing the necessary resources to properly equip our officers. Not until a system of checks and balances can be put in place will we be considered for this program. The federal government has to be convinced that this program will be run properly. County leaders and our state and federal legislators would have to join the sheriff in an effort to convince federal authorities that we are ready to participate in the drug asset forfeiture program.
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?
Keeping the community abreast of crimes in the county is very important and I have a plan in place to do this through social media, newspapers and media outlets. As it would be nice to have a dedicated, full-time position to handle public-relations, I would have to review the budget to determine if funds are available for this position. If funds are not available for a full-time public relations position, the additional duties will be added to present staff.
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 will not criticize the present sheriff as the position carries a tremendous amount of responsibility. I do possess the leadership and administrative abilities to carry our Sheriff’s Office forward. Having been employed at the Sheriff’s Office for the past six years, I am aware of the strengths, weaknesses and challenges in that office. I will always operate in an honest and ethical manner and will strive to do what is right as opposed to what is popular, just as I have in this campaign. I will be transparent in my decisions and will be accountable to the citizens of this county.
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 I was appointed as the chief court counselor in this district, I had the opportunity to show the fact that I would be fair to all the citizens. I hired more Native Americans and African Americans in an attempt to make the racial make-up of my office mirror that of the county. It is my Christian nature to treat all people fairly. As sheriff, I will recruit the best and brightest officers regardless of the aforementioned.
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?
There are numerous challenges that the sheriff faces each day. Managing 200-plus employees, being responsible for the safety and security of the citizens of this county, making sure that all crimes are given the utmost attention in trying to solve those crimes and bring justice to the victims, being the caretaker of around 400 prisoners in the Robeson County Detention Center, providing the resources needed by the officers of the department are just a few. Being a hands-on, visible leader will be my management style. With the high crime rate, which is fueled by the excessive drug traffic and property crimes which result from that drug abuse, special initiatives will be developed to address this problem. Inter-agency drug teams, saturated patrols in high crime and drug infested areas and a quick response team will work to identify and bring these offenders to justice.
9. How do you believe your approach to running the office of Sheriff, if you were elected, would differ from that of your opponents?
I cannot address how my opponents would run the office. I can only state how my administration will operate. Under my administration, the sheriff’s office will be run efficiently, professionally and in a manner where victims and the public will come first. I will build up the morale of our officers which in turn will increase productivity within the office.
10. Question to myself: Why are you running for Sheriff of Robeson County?
My father, Paul Graham, served as Robeson County manager for 22 years and instilled in me a love for this county and its people. I have lived a life of service to this community and when I heard that the present sheriff would not seek re-election, I began to think about his successor. When he approached me and asked me to consider the challenge, I began the process of discussing this decision with my family and prayers to God. After much prayer and consideration, I accepted this challenge. My sole purpose in running for sheriff is to make this county a better place to live and raise our children in a safe environment.