Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Keith Webster
Legal name, if different: Clifford Keith Webster
Date of Birth: February 1969
Campaign Web Site: http://www.keithwebsterforsheriff.com
Occupation & Employer: Lieutenant, Carrboro Police Department
Home Phone: 919 730-1406
Years lived in Orange County: Lifelong resident of Orange County
1. How do you rate the current functioning of the Sheriff’s Office under the longtime leadership of Lindy Pendergrass? Indentify three things that are good and three things that need improvement.
If I had to rate or characterize the sheriff’s office as we now have it after Sheriff Pendergrass’ longtime leadership, I’d say we have an agency with a great foundation that is in need of expansion and modernization if it is going to serve our changing and growing county both now and in the future.
The first thing I very much support and would like to greatly expand is Sheriff Pendergrass’ emphasis on community outreach. Presently, he engages with the community by promoting things such as the DARE program in schools, as well as providing services such as having deputies check homes while the owners are away for extended periods of time to ensure that there has been no property damage or unlawful entry. I want to build upon that foundational concept by reaching out to and working closely with various community organizations in the county.
The second is the implementation of the program set in place to house federal inmates, which helps relieve some tax burden of Orange County citizens. This is somewhat controversial in some circles, but I think it has been an overall good for our county.
The third is his personal model for dedication to the job. For as long as he has been sheriff, Pendergrass has been active in administration and service to the office and the county at-large. I hope to follow and even expand that model of service.
In my opinion, one area that could use improvement would be training and professional development. Orange County deputies respond to a myriad of calls for service all over the county and frequently have to handle these situations on their own. I know for a fact that their training is not what it should be. If our deputies aren’t as well prepared, trained, and confident as they could be, we are not only doing them a disservice – but also our citizens. The increased training would include professional training based around responding to violent crimes and domestic abuse and providing tools to assist more deputies in becoming bilingual. These are all foundational aspects of service in a modern and forward-thinking sheriff’s office.
Next, I would like to address equipment and technology. There are countless resources available to law enforcement that vary from tools that assist with data collection and crime analysis to software deputies could use from mobile computers that assist in identifying potential risks to their safety and the safety of the communities around them. Of course, not all resources are feasible, affordable, or even practical for use, but there are many more steps that could be taken to modernize the tools we are providing to our deputies.
Lastly, I would re-organize the leadership model in the office by giving more decision-making abilities to command staff (upper management). This will enable the ranking officers to make decisions in a way that reflects the fast pace with which most calls are handled. This does not mean that there will be less oversight! In fact, giving more responsibilities to the command staff means a higher standard of performance for people in such positions. This re-organization would simply conform the sheriff’s office to the most modern and efficient leadership models already employed by many other law enforcement agencies with great success.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you’ve identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.
I have over twenty years of experience in law enforcement and 3,200 hours of continuing education and training. Such experience has demonstrated for me exactly how important strong training and continuing education is for deputies. I know what programs are out there which would be worth our time. I also know where to look for grants from various organizations to help off-set the cost of training for the deputies, which in turn makes for a more efficient office.
Regarding technology, my years of continued service to Carrboro Police Department have provided me with great exposure to and experience with modern law enforcement technologies. That along with my extensive continuing education puts me in a great position to monitor and understand the advances in law enforcement methods and technology, which in turn helps me to determine which ones might be more or less useful for our county.
Regarding office re-organization, again my diverse work experience enhances my ability to serve. Having worked for three different law enforcement agencies and with various others over the course of my career, I have seen and been a part of leadership in different organizational and management styles. I want to bring what I have learned back to the sheriff’s office, where I first began my career.
3. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the triangle. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.
One of the main points in my campaign platform is based around quality of life issues, and another is to establish and maintain trust with the citizens of Orange County. What I mean by this point is that if elected sheriff, I will place more concentrated efforts on ensuring that all citizens of our county (specifically often neglected groups such as senior citizens, immigrant groups, racial and ethnic minorities, and the LGBTQ community) will have access to the resources they need. When it comes to establishing and maintaining trust, I understand that with the authority of the position of Sheriff comes great responsibility – responsibility to do the right thing, not only for the county, but for the people that reside within it. As someone with over two decades of law enforcement experience, I understand that there are certain people who are less likely to trust law enforcement. Some people have had bad experiences with law enforcement, some have heard of experiences that cause them to fear law enforcement, and some have simply never met a law enforcement officer in a non-threatening environment. I stand by my belief that everyone in the county should feel safe to call their sheriff’s office, and I will stand by my mission to ensure that above all else, this belief is communicated and demonstrated to our citizens.
4. What do you think about the Decriminalization of Marijuana?
I would start off answering this question by clarifying that as sheriff, it would not be my responsibility to legislate, but rather it would be to enforce laws and ordinances already on the books. In an official capacity, my public opinion one way or another would not have a direct effect on any kind of legislation.
I would also say that the present way in which marijuana is being decriminalized in certain states is a rather unsustainable model since many federal laws prohibit it and these moves on the part of the states create a situation of legal chaos for both attorneys and law enforcement professionals.
5. When you suspect a newly admitted inmate is an undocumented immigrant, do you feel the need to report it to the U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement?
I do not support creating a “papers please” kind of environment in our county. It is absolutely unnecessary and quite honestly creates a sense of fear in many communities throughout the county who should feel that their sheriff’s office is working for and not against them. As sheriff, I would find that kind of environment unacceptable and unethical.
That being said, if the sheriff’s office has to do a background check on an inmate and this comes up, then we would be required by federal law to report it. If it is discovered over the course of a federal investigation into an inmate, then that is out of my jurisdiction. Again, this would apply only to those who are incarcerated and having a background check done. People who come to the sheriff’s office for assistance, come to report a crime, or are stopped for a routine traffic violation should not fear that their sheriff’s office will begin interrogating them as to their citizenship status. Inquiring about someone’s citizenship status in such instances as those often relies on racial/ethnic profiling and I cannot more firmly state that I believe such practices are unjust and unethical.
6. Identify a principle stand you have taken or would be willing to take if elected, even if you suspect might cost you popularity with voters.
One is my focus placed on outreach to all communities within our county. I feel it is good to build strong bonds with the diverse communities we are so fortunate to have in our county, and that does not sit well with everyone. There are plenty of people who are happy to have a sheriff who enforces laws with bias and prejudice. I am dedicated to ensuring that all people, especially those who are historically marginalized and even harassed, are given the utmost protection and respect. Some, such as our Burmese and Karen communities, may feel neglected altogether. That is unacceptable. I intend to work with local community groups and leaders to identify the different needs of our communities. I also support a diverse and accepting work environment in the sheriff’s office itself. Again, there are plenty of people who would like to ignore our present diversity, but building a modern and forward-thinking sheriff’s office requires being in touch with and embracing the diverse communities within our county.
Another is my commitment to expand training to help deputies better deal with situations involving people with mental, intellectual, and developmental disabilities and disorders. People with special needs are not less worthy of proper respect and treatment and sometimes additional training is required to provide it in these unique circumstances. Some may say this is a waste of time and money, but I would counter by saying that if it involves increasing civilian and officer safety and better enables our deputies to respect the rights of others, then it is worth every second and cent spent.
7. Roadblocks and checkpoints can be used as a way to racially profile drivers and passengers. What policies should be in place in regards to roadblocks and checkpoints? Under what circumstances should they be used?
When it comes to traffic checkpoints, there undoubtedly needs to be a system of checks and balances in place to ensure that checkpoint locations are random and equally dispersed throughout the county. The goal of the checkpoint is to increase the safety of our roads and our communities, and by placing certain formalities in action, checkpoints can offer benefits throughout the entire county, significantly reducing alcohol-related crashes and ultimately saving lives.
If checkpoints are being manipulated to racially profile drivers, then that is a gross misuse of a tool which is a public good and such actions have no place in my administration. Checkpoints are instituted to keep people from hurting themselves and others, not as an instrument of racial oppression or intimidation. I would welcome review of the department’s documentation for checkpoints by organizations such as the ACLU because I am committed to justice and transparency.
Checkpoints have proven to be valuable tools in not only enforcing laws and ensuring that drivers are in compliance with North Carolina state laws, but it also gives an opportunity for deputies and officers alike to make face to face contact with a more concentrated number of citizens. This allows for positive interaction, information exchange, and an increase of officer presence in each neighborhood, which in turn deters criminal behavior from occurring.
8. Identify some areas in the Sheriff’s Department budget where money could be cut and others where more funding is needed.
One of the benefits of the modernization I have addressed previously is that it saves the county money. That the sheriff’s department is not as efficient and up-to-date technologically as it could be is one place where efficiency is compromised and money is wasted. After the various reforms I intend to make within the administration and upgrades to the technology, we should see less money spent on various (often duplicated) administrative tasks.
More money needs to be set aside for training and community outreach. I believe that good training is the backbone of any quality law enforcement agency. Money spent on training is not money wasted, but rather money invested in the betterment and increased safety of our county. I would also want to put more money in community outreach initiatives. This can include funds set aside for promoting a “no shame” policy regarding reporting sexual and domestic abuse (important due to underreporting in all groups, especially the LGBTQ community), setting aside more money for translators (not only Spanish, but also Burmese and Karen), and even entering into financial partnerships with local non-profits on programs and initiatives of mutual interest. These things involve a re-prioritization of funds, not upping the cost for tax payers.
9. Overcapacity in Orange County Jail has persisted in recent years. Is this a problem due to housing Federal inmates? Is there a permanent solution?
Of course with more inmates the jail is going to encounter capacity issues. I do not think that housing federal inmates in the county jail is a problem, however. Doing so brings a great deal of federal money into our county, which in turn benefits everyone. As sheriff, I would see to it that the jail facilities are clean, safe, and provide for all of the inmates’ needs. A person being incarcerated does not remove their human dignity, and anyone running a jail should be respectful of that. Regarding facilities, I would support any county initiatives to either upgrade and expand the present jail or simply build new facilities altogether.
10. How do you see the OC Sheriff’s Office Working with municipal Police Departments?
I know from firsthand experience that the sheriff’s office already works with local municipal police departments, and I think that my experience in other agencies in the county has placed me in a great position to strengthen that inter-agency cooperation. At the end of the day it is about serving the county, not creating unnecessary and counter-productive competition between agencies.
As I stated earlier, I would like to foster this already established rapport and continue to build upon it. Information exchange between departments can prove to be more valuable than many people understand and working together will make for more efficient, safe, and effective law enforcement efforts.
11. In what ways would you communicate and work with the Board of Commissioners, and other elected officials in Orange County.
I am more than happy to work with anyone. In fact, I plan to be a very transparent and accessible sheriff. I have a great relationship with many of the folks who work for various departments and offices in the county. One of my goals as sheriff is to work closely with any county office that feels we might accomplish something constructive for our county. Just as with other law enforcement agencies, I do not think that competition between county agencies and offices is a constructive thing. We must all be happy to work with one another to best serve our county.
More specifically, I would have my command staff meet regularly with emergency management and finance agencies. I commit to having a representative from the sheriff’s office at community watch meetings and also to attending Board of Commissioners meetings myself, to answer questions and give reports and updates on the workings of the sheriff’s department. This is all a part of my commitment to community outreach and transparency.
12. What are the needs modernize the department in terms of technology?
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that the sheriff’s office needs to modernize in many ways, not the least of which is technologically. The sheriff’s office needs to modernize and streamline the way in which reports are communicated and turned in, which will create a more efficient environment where deputies spend less time reporting and more time actually patrolling.
It also needs to reorganize and update the crime lab. This is imperative to a well-functioning law enforcement agency because it will decrease the likelihood of arresting the wrong person and would better enable the county to bring resolution to cases of sexual assault, many of which involve DNA and other evidence which requires special care and attention. The cars which deputies use are also outdated and the equipment in some of them is very old. As we can afford it, the cars need to be updated and brought up to a higher functioning standard. As a part of the modernization process I feel it would also be wise to consider crime mapping and forecasting software and mobile computing technology giving deputies in the field access to critical information while performing their duties.
This sounds like a long list, but these should all be standard aspects of a modern sheriff’s department. They can’t come all at once, but re-prioritizing the budget and taking money saved with increased efficiency will go a very long way in the implementation of these various updates in a responsible way.