Early voting for the Orange County Sheriff’s Run-off between David Caldwell and Charles Blackwood kicks off this Thursday. Below are excerpted answers from Blackwood and Caldwell from the OrangePolitics’ Sheriff’s Forum
Welcome to all of the candidates! A first question to get us started: what is your vision for how the sheriff's department will interact with the Orange County residents it protects and serves?
Blackwood: I want the Sheriff's Office to be responsive and accountable, I want to use best practices with respect to customer service. I feel we are an integral part of the community that requires and should solicit input from the citizens. The police are the people and the people are the police. We must be diverse and we must be fair. I don't like the term "transparent" because it suggests you can see through us, I want to be "open".
Caldwell: I would make sure that enforcement of the law is administered equally and fairly, and most of all, that it is understood. I would seek to have a community that is better educated in legal policy and procedures to help all citizens get help when needed. I also favor a more aggressive recruitment of minorities to reflect and work with the diverse makeup of our county.
What role, if any, do you think the Orange County Sheriff should play in enforcing federal immigration policy?
Caldwell: We don't have the time or resources to enforce federal immigration policy. That wouldn't mean that we shouldn't check if we run across someone during an investigation. It's standard procedure to check on all suspicious persons or activities. I would make sure the Sheriff's Department is not targeting any specific group or race solely for the purpose of assisting the government in locating illegal immigrant.
Blackwood: 287G was the program which created the issues that were raised and challenged in our Courts. The program failed and was replaced by Secure Communities. It is managed by Homeland Security. They are more than capable of managing the program as is. As Sheriff I will not utilize county resources to perform their duties. I will support their efforts by offering assistance if needed but don't think we should play lead in this program.
In 2010, Orange County recorded 163 total arrests for marijuana possession. 79 of those arrested were African American. 82 were white. This means African Americans were 6.14 times more likely to be arrested in Orange County for marijuana possession that whites. Why do you think this disparity exists? What, if anything, would you do to combat it? As Sheriff would you prioritize enforcement of marijuana laws?
Blackwood: Please confirm your numbers......If the numbers you post are correct, the percentage may not be...79 and 82 come to 161
79 divided by 161 would be 49% African American
82 divided by 161 would be 51% white
Moderator note: Here is a report bearing out the statistics that form the basis of the third question:
and: African Americans are just over 10% of the Orange County population yet nearly half of the marijuana possession arrests. This is a very sizeable disparity. Why does it exist? And would you prioritize marijuana enforcement as Sheriff?
Caldwell: Proportionally, there are larger percentages of African Americans. The low level dealers of color are less mobile and located in central locations -- leaving them more accessible to law enforcement. We need to stop being satisfied with incarcerating lower level individuals, get inside the groups and work our way up the chain to the more prominent suppliers.
All actions performed by the department are prioritized depending on the seriousness of situation at that particular time.
Blackwood: I would agree there is a disparity and North Carolina may wish to revisit their laws with respect to marijuana possession. As Sheriff I am sworn to uphold and enforce the laws as written.
Orange County has plans to build a new jail. Do you have any concerns about inmate conditions at the current jail? When planning the new facility, what steps, if any, will you take to ensure inmates are held in humane conditions?
Blackwood: The new jail plans that I reviewed along with the Sheriff and were submitted for consideration to the County Commissioners, is State of The Art and will more than accommodate our needs as well as provide humane conditions for our inmates.
Moderator follow-up: Have you ever had concerns about overcrowding at the current jail? If so, will the new jail plans address them?
Blackwood: Yes, they are a daily concern and we do everything in our power to address them. The new jail plans will address them but you must take into account that we are growing at a rate which require us to think ahead and beyond our estimated growth rate.
Caldwell: This is always a difficulty in planning a new structure. It takes so long through the process that by the time it's approved, it's often too small. We need to get accurate information to the commissioners getting it going, cut paperwork and get the new jail built . Better to plan ahead for larger populations at the start.
Caldwell: My concerns are being able to keep up with the rise in number of inmates and keeping juveniles and adults separated.
If the jail is built according to to the standard set by state and federal regulations, that should be enough to assure humane conditions and safety for all involved.
North Carolina is one of only two states in the nation that prosecutes 16 and 17 year olds charged with a crime in the adult criminal justice system, regardless of the severity of their alleged crime. Would you support legislation to raise the age at which kids go into the adult system to 18 for all crimes except violent crimes? Why or why not?
Blackwood: I served on The Youth Accountabilty Task Force where we created a comprehensive plan to bring us into the 21th Century with respect to this issue. The plan requires total input from our Legislators to become law. It is believed this could help decrease the recidivism rate by as much as 10% among 16 and 17 year olds, I hope it is revisited. Leaving it as is is costly.
Moderator follow-up: So, based on this experience, do you believe 16 and 17 year olds should only be tried in the adult criminal justice system when they have committed a violent crime?
Blackwood: The program provides the DA the ability to send cases to the most appropriate court, but generally yes.
Caldwell: I would support raising the age to 18 for all crimes except violent crimes. Youth need more mentors and leadership, and we need to look more carefully at each case -- one experience can alter a life.
Do you believe law enforcement should seek and obtain a warrant before tracking an individual's cell phone location or searching their cell phone data? Why or why not?
Caldwell: Yes, we must observe a person's right to privacy. If probable cause exists, then a warrant should be obtained.
Blackwood: Yes, Unless there is a compelling governmental interest to proceed without one, such as a missing juvenile or endangered person
A great deal of controversy surrounded the Chapel Hill Police Department's use of a SWAT team to remove protestors from the Yates building on Franklin Street in 2011. Based on your knowledge of those events, do you believe deploying a SWAT team was appropriate in those circumstances? More broadly, when do you think it is appropriate to use a SWAT team?
Blackwood: No, I would have handled it differently and have done so in similar circumstances with a more positive outcome.
Moderator clarification: this is a question both about Yates and your general philosophy on SWAT deployment. We'd love to hear from all of the candidates on both points.
Blackwood: SWAT deployment is intended for dynamic entry where conventional entry will not provide a safe result.
Caldwell: There was nothing to indicate at that incident there was any reason to call out a special team as there was mostly property damage, with no one's life in danger. A SWAT team should only be called out during life threatening incidents or the potential for a life-threatening incident (for example a drug bust) that definitely requires that amount of expertise and force.
Many North Carolina counties and municipalities have discussed purchasing drones for law enforcement purposes. Would you pursue exploring their use as Orange County Sheriff? If so, what kind of safeguards should exist before they are used? For example, should law enforcement have to obtain a search warrant before utilizing a drone to target individual's property for closer inspection?
Caldwell: No. The overall cost for drones and their maintenance and operation costs would in no way be justifiable expense for use in Orange County. There are many better ways to spend the taxpayer's money.
Blackwood: We have always respected the plain view doctrine, that which an officer can see without the aid of device. Drones might be effective if guidelines and safeguards are in place and observed. Under no circumstances should they be equipped with lethal or non-lethal weapons. I would look to how the court interpret their use in the future.
As we come towards the end of our forum, here is our ninth question: do you support the death penalty? Why or why not?
Blackwood: This is a personal issue that people have very strong feeling about for and against. I do not feel the taking of a life in any way makes a wrong, right. That being said the costs are always argued. I am not convinced that keeping a person on death row and constantly arguing appeals cost less than housing them for life without parole.
Caldwell: I do not believe in the death penalty. History has shown that through poor investigative procedures and poor representation, many innocent men and women have been put to death. One innocent person is too many. Unless everyone is provided the best in investigation and representation and all are all treated fairly in the eyes of the law, I would not consider supporting it.
When you retire from the post of Sheriff, what would you hope people would say about you?
Caldwell: I would like them to say, "Job well done!" and "What a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs!" and when its over, "Can we do it again?"
Thank you, David Caldwell
Blackwood: That they made the right choice in selecting me to serve in the office and that I made a positive impact on their lives and the county; that the leadership I provided made the difference the citizens wanted to see.