At forum, residents hear from Wake County sheriff candidates

Tuesday, September 13, 2022
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Wake County voters had a chance Monday night to meet Donnie Harrison and Willie Rowe, the two candidates vying to be the next sheriff.

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Wake County voters had a chance Monday night to meet the two candidates vying to be the next sheriff.

Some were interested in hearing how Donnie Harrison, the former Wake County sheriff and Willie Rowe, a retired major who worked in the sheriff's department, will handle community safety concerns.

Longtime Wake County resident Weldon Edgerton had several questions for the future sheriff

"What do you bring to the table that's different than we've already seen? What do you have to offer us that gives us hope, that gives us that security that we need?" he asked.

When it comes to restoring the trust of law enforcement in communities composed of mainly ethnic minorities, Edgerton said the next sheriff needs to show up in the community first.

"He needs to be where the people can actually see and talk to him<' Edgerton said. "You know, we need to be able to express what we're going through. And it needs to be done in a way that we don't feel threatened."

When it comes to improving relationships within those communities, Harrison and Rowe had similar approaches that involved more engagement with residents.

"That's why our community engagement team would be put in place to increase our presence and our community engagement, so we can address issues dealing with all races with cultural awareness training," Rowe said.

Harrison responded, "We got to reach out to our neighbors, regardless of who they are, and that's what we taught our deputies to do. When the deputies are patrolling through neighborhoods, stop and talk to people who are walking on the streets."

Other questions that came up included immigration enforcement, ways to improve second-chance programs for inmates, and how the future sheriff will address recruitment and retention within the sheriff's office.

Before the forum, ABC11 talked with some taxpayers Monday who are concerned about relationships with law enforcement, because of history.

At 83, southeast Raleigh native Herman Hinton still lives with the trauma of his first encounter with local law enforcement. He was walking home in broad daylight.

"I'm coming home and I'm stopped on the street. I'm 9 years old. I didn't need that at that time," said Hinton. "They trying to find out where was I was going. I said I'm going to my house. Where do you stay? I said I stay around the corner. Then they were looking for an identification card. What 9-year-old kid carries an ID?"

Though restoring law enforcement community confidence is important to Hinton, other issues on the table included the deputy shortage, inmate safety and high crime. Raleigh police respond to the area when 911 is called, but some residents say there are times when deputies show up.

Diana Powell, a panelist for the forum, said she believes this is about educating the community.

"What difference would they bring from what's currently in the sheriff's department," said Powell, a community activist. "I think back to the Kyron Hinton case. When Kyron was beaten and bitten by dogs all law enforcement was involved from Highway Patrol to sheriff to (Raleigh's) police department."

Dwight Spencer chose the First Cosmopolitan Baptist Church because of its central location. His organization, the North Carolina Transit Worker's Association was a sponsor of the forum.

"Residents need to hear from both of them just in case they're torn over who they will vote for. Is it Harrison or Rowe? I hope this will be their opportunity to make up their minds," he said before the event.

The forum' was sponsored by N.C. Transit Workers Association, a political action committee.