Name as it appears on the ballot: Clarence Birkhead
Campaign website: birkheadfordurham.com
Years lived in Durham County: 34
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the Sheriff’s Office? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?
- Violent crime
- Lack of equitable access to good-paying jobs
- The mass exodus of qualified (government) employees
- My strategy for addressing violent crime is based on a strategic and targeted enforcement approach. I will continue to work with state, federal, and local agencies to identify and apprehend the most violent offenders in Durham. We must hold these individuals accountable for their actions – actions that continue to destroy the quality of life in our most marginalized neighborhoods. To that end, I have:
- Created the Strike Team (like a tactical team) that works with our regional partners, identifying offenders who commit crimes across county boundaries.
- Created the Sheriff’s Targeted Enforcement Program (STEP) that focuses on being responsive to complaints and concerns presented by Durham residents and developed from local intelligence-sharing with Durham Police.
- Partnered with local, regional, and federal partners to address crime in Durham County and along the I-85/I-40 corridor.
2) As Sheriff, I encourage business owners to hire people who were formerly incarcerated. A second chance can provide residents with a life-changing opportunity to earn a living. A job is the quickest way to exit a life of crime and reduce recidivism.
3) The Durham County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) must do a better job compensating employees. As the sixth-largest county in North Carolina, salary is among the lowest for deputies and detention officers. On average, one DCSO employee is lost per month to other Triangle-based law enforcement agencies paying up to 20% more.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective county sheriff? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
Since December 2018 and now as I complete my first term as Sheriff representing Durham County, this experience has given me a first-hand perspective on the ongoing challenges facing our local community. With nearly four decades of diverse law enforcement experience, I am well qualified to continue to serve. I have:
- Vast knowledge of how local government works
- A clear understanding of how the Office of the Sheriff operates as a constitutional office, and what it means to be a servant leader
- The formal education, life experiences, and leadership skills needed to direct more than 450+ employees
- Recent appointments to the Governor’s Task Force on Racial Equity in Criminal Justice (2021) and the Governor’s Crime Commission (2022) that have positioned me to be at the forefront of criminal justice reform, elevating law enforcement professionalism and addressing emerging issues in law enforcement which impacts our local Durham community and the State
- Community service throughout the Durham community over the past 34 years which provides the foundation for community engagement and community collaboration in addressing public safety concerns
3. If you are challenging an incumbent, what decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are an incumbent, what in your record and experience do you believe entitles you to another term?
Although I am the incumbent, I don’t believe anyone is “entitled” to another term. I ask the voters to review my record as Durham County Sheriff and choose the best candidate. My first-term achievements include the following:
- Actively engaged in the fight for criminal justice reform. Being the first black Sheriff of Durham County gives me a unique viewpoint. As previously mentioned, I’m honored to serve on North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice and the Governor’s Crime Commission to use my perspective to affect positive change.
- Drugs and guns are deteriorating the rich fabric of the black and brown communities of Durham City and County. During my first term, I’ve increased efforts to rid our communities of drugs and remove guns from our neighborhoods. I’ve developed a regional strike team of highly trained Sheriff’s deputies cooperating across four (4) counties to carry out high-risk operations to remove violent offenders from our streets. We’re making progress. There is still much to do.
- Implemented the Sheriff’s Targeted Enforcement Program (STEP) to address quality of life concerns in our community regarding public safety, gun violence, and criminal activity
- Advanced technology like body-worn cameras (BWC) and in-car dash cameras to ensure accurate portrayals of interactions between law enforcement and the community and increase transparency and accountability. The cameras are being issued to all deputies, school resource officers (SROs), and eventually to detention officers. Further, additional benefits include:
- Improving evidence collection
- Gathering the evidence to corroborate or dismiss accounts of an interaction
- Strengthening trust between law enforcement and the community
- De-escalating conflicts
- Fewer complaints were lodged against officers relative to officers without BWCs
- A higher number of citizen complaints resolved in citizens’ favor
- Training opportunities
- In service to Durham County residents that, under my leadership, DCSO properly trains deputies and detention officers as public servants and guardians of the peace. Training includes:
- A model policy on use-of-force
- A policy on an officer’s duty to intervene
- De-escalation training
- Body-worn cameras and in-car dash cameras
- Crisis intervention training (CIT)
- Ongoing training as best practices evolve including Fair and Impartial Policing Training
- Banned by policy “no-knock warrants”
- Implemented all aspects of “8 Can’t Wait”
- Rejected ICE detainers without a judicial warrant or a Notice to Appear; detainers target marginalized communities
- Signed on to Faith ID program
- A focus on appropriate and humane ways to care for detainees housed at the Durham County Detention Center; including medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for substance abuse (the first in the State of North Carolina), 24/7 mental health care, peer support and transition services, mental health treatment and programming for all women, and implementation of the male mental health pod.
- Improvements to communications for detainees, increasing and encouraging them to retain or add family connections to support re-integration and decrease recidivism by reducing phone rates and implementing a communications program with emails and video visits
- Engaging the community with the help of established leaders and dedicated community groups like Partners Against Crime (PAC), local advocacy groups, and regular meetings with the Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities, religious leaders, and the business community across Durham.
- The creation of the first-ever Citizens Advisory Board. CAB has 27 members offering local citizens the opportunity to communicate with me as the Sheriff about their community concerns at quarterly meetings.
- Under my leadership, DCSO has earned the “Triple Crown” of accreditations: Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), American Correctional Association (ACA), and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC). Most of the work behind this achievement took place during same time as the pandemic.
4. Durham has seen a record number of homicides and shootings over the past few years (and is on track to break another record again this year), with local officials and law enforcement seemingly unable to successfully address it. What needs to be done about gun violence in Durham? What role does the sheriff, who is elected by voters who live within city limits, have in addressing it?
A multi-pronged approach is required to address the proliferation of firearms, reduce gun violence, and address gun trafficking in our region and throughout the I-85/I-40 corridor. The Sheriff’s Targeted Enforcement Program (STEP) allows DCSO deputies and investigators to be laser-focused on apprehending and holding accountable those who commit gun violence and drug crimes. This targeted approach to violent offenders has been successful.
Additionally, I will continue DCSO’s regional approach, working with our local, state, and federal partners in fighting gun crimes and the flow of guns coming into our community.
Further, I am working with several state legislators to strengthen gun laws, ban “ghost guns” (which are untraceable and unregulated) and pass “red flag” laws that would allow for the temporary removal of guns from persons found to be a danger to themselves or others.
I support universal background checks and sensible gun ownership.
In April 2022, we completed the first gun buyback sponsored by the Durham County Sheriff’s Office and later this year (August 2022) we held our second successful gun buy-back event. Collectively we have received over 400 guns from those who voluntarily surrendered them for various reasons. This program has become a model for other communities across the state. The guns collected in Durham and other municipalities will not fall into the hands of criminals or be used on our streets.
Over the years through my work in the community, I developed relationships with people involved with gangs, as well as those working to reduce gang activity. I use these relationships to help facilitate conversations with current and former gang members to address gun violence. Other community leaders and elected officials are engaging in similar conversations. Our collective work and collaborations are leading to a better understanding of why young people in Durham join gangs and why they stay.
Now is time for the entire community to focus on addressing the social and economic causes that underlie gang activity, gang participation, and gun violence.
Creating opportunities for young men and women to provide for themselves and for their families, by providing access to good-paying jobs, access to vocational training, and establishing a robust training and job placement initiative are imperative to the community.
I am mindful that gun violence, shootings, and violent crime occurs outside of gangs, too. To address the proliferation of drugs, I am laser-focused on the apprehension and prosecution of those committing crimes. These crimes are closely related to social and economic issues underlying criminal activity in the community – such as substance use disorder, domestic violence, and mental health disorders.
5. Would you support the creation of a civilian review board to review use-of-force incidents by sheriff’s deputies and recommend reforms to make the sheriff’s office more accountable to residents?
No, I do not support the creation of an independent review board. The Office of the Sheriff is bound by the State Constitution and state law, which prohibit the Sheriff from delegating any constitutional and statutory duties and authorities.
However, since taking office, I created a Community Advisory Board (CAB) to solicit input from the community, a first of its kind in North Carolina. In CAB meetings, I discuss policies, programs and, answer community questions about specific incidents, events and crimes to the extent permitted by law.
6. In a recent survey of 947 residents of Durham County, 56.8 percent of residents listed the quality of protection from law enforcement as their No. 1 concern and 51 percent of respondents said they were happy with the sheriff’s office’s relationship with the community. How do you account for these numbers? What can the sheriff’s office do to offer better protection to residents and improve relationships with the community?
There is always more work to do. Any public safety leader and/or elected official would desire a higher favorable rating. Our residents are unhappy with the amount of gun violence in the community and the survey reflects that. I would note, however, that only 947 residents responded to the survey out of a county population of nearly 325,000.
Throughout my first term, my staff (community engagement office, command staff, and deputies) and I have regularly met with multiple community members and have talked and communicated with more than the 947 people who responded to the survey. These efforts to work in partnership with the community have positively touched many lives. Have those efforts touched 325,000 residents? No, they have not. So, yes, there is more work to do. DCSO must continuously work to engage the community, hear their concerns, and take steps to address their concerns.
I will continue to lead efforts to reform public safety to achieve racial equity in the justice system. I will continue to provide public safety updates to the community, with emphasis on information to victims’ families. Updates will include information about DCSO efforts without compromising the integrity of criminal investigations. I will continue working with local, regional, and federal partners to address crime and gun violence in Durham County.
I will continue to engage with community groups to spread the word about DCSO’s crime-fighting efforts. DCSO will continue to be part of the community by meeting the public where they are and participating in outreach efforts to all members of the community. I will continue to grow the Community Advisory Board, to hear input directly from community members.
7. No-knock warrants have resulted in the deaths of innocent people across the country, including Breonna Taylor and Amir Locke, yet Durham County sheriff’s deputies still use them. Should the sheriff’s office ban the use of no-knock warrants by its employees?
The DCSO prohibits, by policy, the use no-knock warrants. As I do not support the use of no-knock warrants, I instituted a policy prohibiting them. An unannounced entry into someone’s home creates a chaotic and potentially dangerous situation as the occupants may be inclined to protect themselves, which could lead to the use of force by police. And, in the interest of safety, the majority of our search and/or arrest warrants are served during the day.
Additionally, North Carolina law requires the following of law enforcement: “before entering the premises, give appropriate notice of his identity and purpose to the person to be searched” unless “the officer has probable cause to believe that the giving of notice would endanger the life or safety of any person.” N.C. Gen. Stat. 15A-249, 251, 401. This state statute language is written directly into DCSO policies.
8. Under North Carolina law, body-camera footage is not public record. Under what circumstances do you believe the public should be allowed to review body camera footage?
We must strike the balance between using body-camera footage to hold our law enforcement accountable while also honoring the privacy of those residents who appear in the footage and the concerns of residents about increased police surveillance or use of force. In some cases, the footage can be used to bring closure to family members and accountability to law enforcement.
Viewing of such video footage should be decided on a case-by-case basis. Depending on the nature and severity of the case, the decision to release a body camera video should be made after careful consultation with the district attorney and family members along with their representatives.
Regarding the release of video footage, I agree with North Carolina’s approach of requiring judicial approval of its release. A judicial release order can set the conditions. This approach strikes the balance among all the issues – maintaining the integrity of any criminal investigation and prosecution, the defendants’ right to a fair trial, the family’s privacy concerns, and the public’s “right to know” and be informed.
The changes enacted in Senate Bill 300 (SB 300) shifts the responsibility to file a petition for release of the video to law enforcement personnel which I support. Previously, the parties seeking the release of the video were required to file a petition for release. This could ultimately lead to faster release of video footage as law enforcement is more familiar with filing procedures for video release.
Another change in SB 300 is to permit and require the immediate disclosure of any video depicting death or serious bodily injury. I support this change.
9. Similarly, police officers’ and sheriff’s deputies’ personnel files, including disciplinary records, are not public documents in North Carolina. Given that law enforcement in some cases literally has the power of life and death, do you believe it is appropriate for members of the public to know whether a law enforcement agent has been disciplined and why?
If North Carolina laws protecting employee privacy were decreased, I would have greater latitude to discuss personnel matters related to alleged wrongdoings.
Currently, officer-involved shootings and use of force resulting in serious injury or death are reported in Critical Incident Reporting to NC Criminal Justice Standards for Police Officers and Sheriff’s Training and Education Standards for Deputies, in accordance with Senate Bill 300, which is now law. Further, a review of personnel records is available to other law enforcement agencies in relation to hiring.
I’m hopeful that the deliverables of the Governor’s Task Force on Racial Equity in Criminal Justice as it relates to critical incident reporting will bring greater transparency and improve confidence in the criminal justice system.
10. Do you support the expanded use of citations as an alternative to arrests? Under what circumstances?
The justice system should be fair and equitable for all it serves. From a law enforcement perspective, that means we should not criminalize poverty and should understand the impact adverse childhood experiences or trauma has on adult behavior.
We must recognize that the court system can adversely impact working families in other ways than being detained. Many residents will forgo a portion of their salary in order to attend court, while others may not attend court at all (risking a bench warrant) because of the lack of affordable childcare or transportation.
With the remote hearing technology we are currently working to implement, individuals will be able to participate in certain court hearings from their home, their desk or on a personal device, such as a cell phone. Residents will be able to log in at the time of their hearing, participate and then return to their other responsibilities.
I encourage the use of citations instead of arrests for certain misdemeanors.
11. What at policies would you support to reduce recidivism, particularly among youthful offenders?
The following are some actions I’ve taken to reduce recidivism:
- Research opportunities to expand educational programming to address job skills in addition to the literacy and GED courses currently offered.
- Champion for improvements to communications for detainees, encouraging them to retain or add family connections to support re-integration and decrease recidivism.
- Creating opportunity for equitable access to good-paying jobs. I have and continue to encourage our local business owners to hire people who were formerly incarcerated. A second chance can provide residents with life-changing opportunities to earn a living. A job is the quickest way to exit a life of crime and reduce recidivism.
- Working with local organizations. Also, as previously mentioned, our medical personnel work closely with our detainees to address their physical and mental health needs. Many of our detained individuals have untreated and/or unmanaged chronic illnesses. Addressing these medical needs and providing an avenue for medical care outside of the detention facility helps provide stability and reduce recidivism.
- Working with Durham County Public Health’s FIT Program and the local Reentry Council to ensure our detainees have the wrap-around services for a successful transition back into the community.
- Regarding our youth, the “Raise the Age” legislation, which became effective December 1, 2019, overhauled the criminal justice system for this segment of the population. Not only did the changes raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18, but it also incorporated diversion and case review before prosecution. The legislation requires law enforcement, juvenile court counselors and prosecutors to use diversion to community resources, programs, and therapy instead of prosecution with the goal of helping our youth make better choices, choose a better path and address the underlying causes of delinquent behavior. Additionally, juvenile court counselors must review every potential case of juvenile delinquency and approve a juvenile delinquency petition before a case can proceed through the juvenile delinquency process in our courts. With these changes, not only Durham – but North Carolina – has taken a tremendous step to reducing our youth involvement in the criminal justice system.
- DCSO helped lead the efforts to establish the School Justice Partnership which involves elected leaders, local law enforcement, the judiciary, social services, community organizations, the school system and other community partners. This group works to identify additional local resources to support our youth diversion efforts.
- In 2019, the DCSO and the Durham Public School System revamped the School Resource Officer (SRO) program to clearly emphasize that school resource officers should not be used for school discipline but to help promote a safe school environment free from crime. As a result, the number of cases referred to the court system has significantly reduced.
- To address recidivism of young adults or our youth who have aged out of juvenile court, DCSO is working with the Criminal Justice Resource Center and Duke University to study and improve our county’s misdemeanor diversion program.
12. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some points with voters.
As the Durham County Sheriff, I made a clear and uncompromising commitment to not cooperate with ICE. I do not deploy checkpoints to check immigration status. DCSO does not honor ICE detainers and does not participate in ICE roundups.
Currently, local law enforcement can decide whether or not to cooperate with ICE. To be clear and to reiterate, the only detainer requests that DCSO will honor under my leadership are those that come with a judicial warrant or a Notice to Appear.
ICE detainers generally target members of the community who have brown skin. Members of the Hispanic and Latino communities have suffered discrimination and been maligned by the federal government. While some may view ICE detainers differently and not support my position, it is not a Bull City value to target members of the community based on the color of their skin. As a black man, as a compassionate humanitarian, I reject the premise.
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