Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker’s rocky tenure is coming to an end following Democrat Willie Rowe’s victory on Tuesday.

Rowe beat Baker in a primary earlier this year and went on to defeat former longtime sheriff Donnie Baker, a Republican, marking what seems to be a permanent shift in the county’s approach to law enforcement. 

Harrison was elected sheriff for four terms (16 years) before losing to Baker in 2018. Baker’s victory followed Black Lives Matter protests and a political firestorm over Harrison’s cooperation with ICE to deport immigrants. But since Baker’s election, the sheriff’s office has been wracked with problems. 

In 2020, hundreds of people gathered downtown to protest the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many other Black men and women killed by police. Protesters were met with tear gas and less-lethal bullets fired by Raleigh police officers and Wake sheriff’s office deputies. Baker also faced criticism over lawsuits alleging wrongful termination, discrimination, and retaliation.

It seems that was enough for Democrats to oust Baker in favor of Willie Rowe back in the May primary. Rowe won again in a July runoff and has now secured the seat against Harrison on Election day. Rowe, 62, won with about 54 percent of the vote, a solid lead over Harrison’s 46 percent.

Rowe served 28 years in the sheriff’s office before retiring and is now returning as the head honcho. He has experience with community outreach and says he plans to prioritize crime prevention and deterrence over arrests. On reform, Rowe supports a pretrial release program and increased education opportunities for people in jail.

While a new sheriff takes the reins, however, there won’t be much change in the district attorney’s office, where Democratic incumbent Lorrin Freeman has officially won re-election. Freeman was the presumptive winner after she won the Democratic primary earlier this year, but has faced criticism over her support for the death penalty and failure to prosecute law enforcement officers involved in use-of-force incidents. 

In the two years since the murder of George Floyd, Raleigh police have shot and killed five people. And after the mass shooting in the Hedingham neighborhood last month, many voters are asking what officials will do to end gun violence.

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Follow Staff Writer Jasmine Gallup on Twitter or send an email to jgallup@indyweek.com. Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com.