One year on job, Durham sheriff responds to community concerns about gun violence

Tim Pulliam Image
Wednesday, December 4, 2019
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Durham Sheriff reflects after one year on job

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said his first full year as sheriff has been fast, intense but successful -- despite what he considers unprecedented gun violence in Durham.

On Wednesday, ABC11 spoke to people who wanted to hear from him about their concerns.

Carmen Quan just moved to Durham from Charlotte four months ago.

She's heard all about the shootings in recent months.

She wants the sheriff to address protecting children from bullets.

"Be free in their yard, in their streets, and not have to worry about getting caught up in gang violence or being overpoliced," Quan said.

Birkhead responded.

"We don't want to overpolice our community. We want to be very targeted and very focused on getting the perpetrators who are committing these acts of gun violence," he said.

READ MORE: One-year progress report from Durham County Sheriff's Office (.pdf)

Birkhead said he's working with Durham Police and the FBI to tackle gun violence, even offering his deputies to help with DPD's gang and intelligence unit.

Birkhead, who is Durham's first black sheriff, said the gun violence keeps him up at night, and hears from neighbors who say they fear being wounded.

"They practice jumping into the bath tub when they hear gunshots. That's unacceptable. That's exactly why STEP was initiated and will continue," Birkhead said.

STEP is a targeted effort among five departments within the sheriff's office to track down wanted suspects.

Since the program's debut in August, deputies have arrested and charged 42 known gun and drug offenders.

One ABC11 viewer wanted to know how Birkhead will improve the School Resource Officer program in Durham Schools. Birkhead said he's begun evaluating current policies and procedures.

"I don't want us to have an adversarial relationship with our students, or faculty or staff," the sheriff said. "I want our SROs to build those relationships in school, so that they can pursue their education."

Birkhead is fully staffed at headquarters.

But the jail is not. There are up to 30 vacancies for detention officers.

The shortage is forcing staff members to work overtime. Birkhead said security is not a problem.

"We still have enough staff to ensure the facility operates at optimal level. We don't fall below minimal staffing," he said.

As for ICE Detainers, Birkhead said he still will not honor them.

The sheriff's office just launched a 26-member community advisory council to advise the sheriff on concerns.

They just met a few weeks ago and will continue each quarter in 2020.

The sheriff said the biggest lesson he's learned about himself since taking office is patience.