March for Our Lives organizers stand on a temporary stage to close out the March for Our Lives event in Raleigh at Halifax Mall on June 11. Credit: Joseph Navin

The Loaded Truth

In Buzz, July 2022/August 2022 by Melissa HowsamLeave a Comment

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Sheriff candidates talk plans for gun safety.

On June 11, students, survivors and activists fed up with fearing for their (and their families’) lives descended on Downtown Raleigh, DC and cities across the country to March for Our Lives in protest of the onslaught of national gun violence. 2022 has seen 250+ mass shootings already. In light of the impending election and the barrage of national school shootings and local lockdowns, planned attacks and scares, we asked our three current Wake County sheriff candidates what they plan to do to protect the 160,000 kids in Wake County’s school system.

Question: If elected, what are you planning to do to help protect the 160,000 kids in Wake County’s school system? What is your plan on keeping our students safe?

Gerald Baker (D)
Incumbent

“Under my administration, we have enhanced our School Resource Officer Training. We currently have a School Resource Officer (SRO) in every middle school in Wake County. However, a majority of Wake County elementary schools are without an armed officer, and I believe it is time for there to be a SRO in every school in Wake County. I have said that for several years, and I will continue to work with the public school system, as well as local municipalities, toward achieving that goal. I will ensure this agency and its members are prepared to protect and serve the 160,000 children in Wake County.

As sheriff, I have implemented an operative Community Relations and Crime Prevention Division that is now active throughout the entire county with bold, new leadership aimed at deterring our young people away from lives of trouble and crime. These units offer and sponsor various programs that help foster these relationships that did not exist prior to 2018. I reestablished the D.A.R.E. program back to many elementary schools in Wake County.  D.A.R.E envisions a world in which students everywhere are empowered to respect others and choose to lead lives free from violence, substance use and other dangerous behaviors. 

Being more present in schools at different capacities while reaching these children at a young age, before they are at risk, is another way I will continue to keep children safe within Wake County.”


Donnie Harrison (R)
Former Sheriff 2002–2018 

“The protection and safety of our children, especially while they are in school, should not involve a political stance, but is rather a very real concern and priority for me and every enforcement agency in Wake County. As the recent tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, demonstrated, preparation and coordination are vital, and the lack thereof can be catastrophic. If I am elected to serve as sheriff in November, I will work diligently with our Board of Education and County Commissioners to make sure the School Resource Officers (SROs) provided by the sheriff’s office are fully coordinated in safety procedures and protocols relating to school violence. 

In addition, I will advocate for the best possible training available to assure our SROs are fully prepared to handle any type of emergency situation that may arise in our public schools. I will develop a comprehensive screening process to determine the very best candidates for the position of SRO. I will not just depend on internal training, but also explore the best SRO training nationwide.

I have long advocated for a special police department exclusively for the Wake County Public School system and will continue to do so. This would allow those officers to be totally engaged and specifically trained in public safety measures and protection for our schools. Many school systems all across our country—and some within our own state—have developed such departments, and they have proven to be successful. 

All the schools in Wake County fall within 13 different police jurisdictions. As we saw in the heartbreaking Uvalde situation, when multiple agencies respond, there can be breakdowns in the chain of command resulting in tragic consequences. If a school police force was established, there would be no question as to who is in charge when other agencies respond to assist, not to mention the very specialized training such a police department would receive. I sincerely believe this idea is a good policy, and I will continue to advance it if I am elected sheriff.”


Willie Rowe (D)
Retired Major from the Wake County Sheriff’s Office

“I have a passion for public safety because I believe people live life to the fullest when they feel safe. Reducing crime and enhancing public safety is a primary duty of the sheriff’s office. To address violent crimes, additional resources must be committed to prevent and deter crime through increased officers’ presence and community engagement. In addition to patrolling, officers will interact directly with the community as partners to educate, build positive relationships and create opportunities for successful outcomes.

To build safer communities, schools, businesses and workplaces, we must increase funding and staffing in order to physically position officers in place to maintain controlled access—patrolling parking lots and live monitoring security cameras to ensure any potential threat is readily identified, intercepted and eradicated before escalating to an act of violence. 

Also: continuous and relevant ongoing training for officers and the general public; information sharing among public safety officials and all agencies regarding individuals who may pose a threat; and coordination with mental health providers for timely crisis intervention to ensure needed resources are available and deployed are paramount to prevention, de-escalation and containment to prevent further harm.

If elected sheriff, I am committed to partnering with all stakeholders to develop sound and innovative approaches to reduce crime; improve overall quality of life; and make Wake County the safest place to live, work, play and visit.”

Editor’s note: All sheriff responses are printed in their entirety. The runoff race is July 26, the winner of which will face Harrison in the general election Nov. 8.

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