Wilkins will need allies to put dent in crime problem

Robeson County, as is always the case following a sheriff’s election, is broken, but perhaps not shattered as many people believe.

This sheriff’s campaign was nasty like none in recent memory, but when all the 22,000-plus votes were counted on Tuesday, 42 percent of the votes in a crowded, five-person race favored the winning candidate, Burnis Wilkins. Put another way, 65 percent of the voters did not want the person who finished second.

Wilkins won 25 of 39 precincts, lost another by a single vote, and his support was throughout the county, not in pockets. For those who care about such things, the county’s precinct-by-precinct voting totals can be found on page 6A of today’s newspaper, and a close examination will show evidence of support for Wilkins from all three races in this county. As two examples, Wilkins actually won early voting in Pembroke, held serve there for the entire election, and won Fairmont on the final day.

That bodes well as Wilkins prepares to take on two critical tasks.

No. 1, which is obvious, is to combat the crime problem that ranks us No. 1 in the state in violence and property. We say this often, but few people hear it. Part of Robeson’s problem is the county is 952 square miles, the largest in the state; few places are safer in this state than Chapel Hill, but if you put Chapel Hill in the middle of a county as large as Robeson, it is attached to Durham’s crime problem, which is among the worst in the state.

It is critical that Wilkins and what we believe will be a reconfigured Sheriff’s Office, both in personnel and how it operates, take big bites out of the crime rate, because until that happens, this county will struggle to recruit industry and professionals.

We can say it now: Wilkins’ resume, including working on the city, county, state and federal levels in law enforcement during a five-decade career, eclipses those of his opponents, and they too were well-qualified. The only thing missing is administrative experience, but Wilkins has made it clear he doesn’t plan on having his feet propped up on a desk. He will be out and about — and can leave the paper pushing for someone else.

Wilkins actually offered ideas to combat crime, including a multi-county drug task force, becoming again a beneficiary of the federal drug seizure assets program, doing county outreach through volunteer fire departments, and the use of social media to give residents real-time information about criminal threats. Local law enforcement was clearly behind Wilkins, so expect enhanced collaboration with the various municipal agencies as well as better morale on Legend Road.

None of these initiatives depend on a whole lot of money to implement, and in fact, rejoining the drug asset program will provide relief to local taxpayers.

No. 2 is to build bridges to critical leaders of all colors in the community — not the charlatans front and center during the campaign. There are good people who are skeptical, but willing to be convinced that Wilkins is what he says he will be, and that is a sheriff for all the people of Robeson County.

Wilkins during his campaign has talked about his willingness to reach out to the communities to see what their concerns are, and that must continue, not only at the grassroots level, but in bringing leaders into the fold because the crime problem in this county demands an all-on-board approach.

No. 2 is up first, and it will help determine to what degree No. 1 can be achieved.