Name as it appears on the ballot: Donnie Harrison
Campaign website: https://www.donnieharrison.com/
Party affiliation: Republican
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?
I will immediately implement my plan for “A Safer Wake County,” as indicated on my campaign website donnieharrison.com.
Training is one of the main issues that is important to me. Societal norms and perspectives are very different than they were even a few years ago. Law enforcement must keep up with changes in law, changes in population and changes in expectations. It is my intention not only to meet but also exceed state training mandates for the Sheriff’s Office.
Mental health issues must be addressed more effectively in Wake County. I have said that the Wake County Jail is the largest mental health facility in the state. I will work hard to re-establish excellent relationships with mental health providers and judicial officials to better serve the mentally ill among us.
Manpower shortages are problematic in many law enforcement agencies for any number of reasons. I have shown that I know how to recruit and retain personnel. I can also allocate available personnel in a manner most beneficial to the public.
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.
I started out as a North Carolina State Highway Patrolman and worked as a frontline trooper in Wake County, during which time I was shot and seriously injured in the line of duty. Later, I retired as a sergeant with thirty years of creditable service with the state. After retirement, I served as Sheriff of Wake County for sixteen years.
No other Republican candidate has ever served as a sheriff. I was elected by the people of Wake County for four consecutive terms, and I know from experience what is involved in the job. I have proven that I am more than competent to lead a thousand-plus person agency and manage a multi-million-dollar budget.
I have also served my community as a long-standing member of Holland’s United Methodist Church, volunteer firefighter, a youth softball coach and college basketball official. Additionally, I have trained and handled police canines for a number of law enforcement agencies.
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?
I think it was a mistake to discontinue the Citizens Well Check Program that I started during my terms as Sheriff. I also disagree with the current administration’s decision to do away with 287g program, which helped us better to identify exactly who was incarcerated in our jail, thereby keeping our citizens safer.
4. Recently, Wake County lowered the minimum bond for some offenses to reduce the number of people in county jail awaiting trial. Bond remains at $750 for those charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor. Do you agree with the bail reforms that the county implemented? Do you believe the reforms go far enough?
While I am glad when fewer people are in jail, for a number of reasons, it is not the duty of the Sheriff to have input into bonding laws and procedures. I believe a Sheriff should concentrate on the numerous duties and responsibilities lawfully placed upon him or her and allow other officials to do the same.
5. Many candidates have promised to reach out to the community to build relationships and restore trust. What are some examples of outreach work you have done?
I have always maintained an “open-door policy,” and believe I was one of if not the most accessible elected official in Wake County. I have also spoken to and met with a number special interest, cultural and ethnic groups in Wake County where ideas are exchanged and often a better appreciation for each other is the result. My Citizens Well Check Program was a tremendous success, which was much appreciated by senior citizens and their families.
6. Under recent reforms, the Sheriff’s Office has been tasked with setting up a dashboard to show the pretrial release status of people being held in Wake County jails that law enforcement, attorneys, and other stakeholders can access. Do you think members of the public should be able to access this dashboard as well? What else if anything should the Sheriff’s Office do to increase transparency?
I have not been made privy to the details of this project; therefore, it would be unwise for me to comment on it or express an option specifically about it. As far as increasing transparency, it has always been my policy to be open and honest with the news media as well as making myself available to the public to an extremely high degree.
Transparency within the Sheriff’s Office is primarily the responsibility of the Sheriff. I must demand that our employees conduct themselves professionally and set that example for them personally. I have been and will continue to have an open-door policy for everyone to have the opportunity to speak with me.
7. The sheriff’s office has a budget of almost $102 million. What should that money go towards? Do you support shifting funds to community initiative such as social workers, crisis intervention and de-escalation training?
I have proven without question that I am very capable of managing the Sheriff’s Office budget. I can also assure the citizens that I was a good steward of their money when I was the Sheriff. The Sheriff’s budget is not excessive, and the money allotted to the Sheriff’s Office is needed to provide quality service to the citizens of Wake County. While I am not opposed to some community initiatives, they should not be funded from the Sheriff’s budget.
8. Multiple courts have ruled that ICE detainer requests do not meet Fourth Amendment requirements for arrest. Under what circumstances should the Sheriff’s Office honor detained requests? Please explain your answer.
There is some conflicting information as to the legality of an ICE retainer. I would rely on the advice of the best legal minds available to the Sheriff’s Office and endeavor to cooperate with federal officials just as I would other law enforcement agencies.
9. 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.
North Carolina law is very clear as to when and how body camera recordings may be released. A Sheriff is sworn to uphold the law; therefore, an individual Sheriff’s personal opinion is mute. He or she must follow the law as duly enacted.
10. 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?
In this case, North Carolina is very clear regarding personnel records, therefore a Sheriff’s personal opinion is not relevant. The Sheriff is sworn to uphold the law and that is what I have done and will continue to do.
11. Do you support the expanded use of citations as an alternative to arrest? Under what circumstances?
I think officers should be given a good deal of latitude in determining when a citation would be appropriate instead of an arrest. By North Carolina General Statute 15A-302, a citation is a directive, issued by a law enforcement officer or other person authorized by statute, that a person is to appear in court and answer a misdemeanor or infraction charge or charges. It may be issued by an officer to any person who he has probable cause to believe has committed a misdemeanor or infraction. Citations save time and I believe, when used at the discretion of an officer is a good tool.
12. What policies would you support to reduce recidivism, particularly youthful officers?
It must be recognized that a county jail is a detention center, not a correctional facility. Thus, a Sheriff is limited in what programs can be undertaken inside the jail. That being said, when I served as Wake County Sheriff, I initiated and supported a summer adventure camp that was held at our Training Center and targeted young people, some of which were “at risk.” I also allowed pastors, other spiritual counselors and mental health specialists to minister to inmates.
13. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected hat you suspect might cost you some points with voters.
While I know and embrace the fact that I am answerable first and foremost to the citizens of Wake County, I have never and will never base my decisions on whether or not I may lose votes over it. It is my intent that every stand I take is a principled stand based on what I believe is right and best for the Sheriff’s Office and the citizens of Wake County.