CHAPEL HILL — The Orange County Sheriff’s Office could benefit from closer community ties and better use of existing resources, sheriff candidate David Caldwell Jr. says.
Caldwell and Charles Blackwood are running in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff to replace retiring Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass. Pendergrass has been the county’s sheriff since 1982.
While Blackwood beat five other candidates to win the May 6 primary, he got less than 40 percent of the vote and only 58 votes more than Caldwell. State law allowed Caldwell to seek a runoff, and with no Republican candidates, the winner this time will be unopposed in November.
Caldwell, 61, is an environmental justice organizer who retired after two decades with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
He ran his campaign on $4,623 raised in the first three months of this year, including more than $3,500 that he and his wife contributed, elections office reports show. He spent $3,580, reports show.
Caldwell said he won’t make big changes if elected, but he will evaluate the department’s personnel and start using reserve deputies to expand its coverage and help full-time deputies get time off. Most reserve deputies are retired with years of experience, he said, and could take on additional duties to meet training requirements and stay abreast of new tools and techniques.
“You have some, they may not be able to work the roads, but they can work the courthouse or they can work the jail or even in the office,” Caldwell said. “You have 20, 30 years of experience and knowledge that sometimes is not being utilized.”
Training is important for safety and liability reasons, he said, but it also helps deputies make better decisions. Regular cross training would improve the agency’s effectiveness and give them a break from the routine, he said.
As director of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, Caldwell said he learned how people who play together and connect on a personal level can bridge their differences. He also learned how to do more with less by combining resources with other agencies, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office could benefit from more Asian and Hispanic deputies, he said. Diversity is important, but so is timing, he said. Most people are more comfortable talking to someone who looks like them, but it’s doesn’t help if they only see deputies when someone’s being arrested, he said.
Deputies can make connections by stopping at the local store to get a drink or meeting people at community events, he said. Understanding why somebody commits a crime – whether to buy drugs or to feed their family – can build trust and maybe help someone in trouble, he said.
“We’ve got to take these blinders off, we’ve got to get outside the box, and we’ve got to work as a group,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re going to let the dope pushers and the rest of these guys (go). The law is still going to be enforced in Orange County, but we’ve got to do more.”
It all starts with young people, Caldwell said.
Parents should be involved early and held accountable if the behavior continues, he said. Church congregations can be trained to recognize signs of trouble, such as gangs and drugs, and how to protect their families, he said. Everyone can help identify children in crisis, he said.
Deputies can connect with young people through the schools, in the neighborhoods and by reviving the Explorers program, Caldwell said. The program teaches teens about law enforcement, develops leadership skills and self-confidence, and gets them involved in their community.
“We need to sit down one-on-one and say, look this is what’s going to happen,” he said. “Let’s find some alternatives.”