'Very excited': Willie Rowe discusses goals on his first day as Wake County sheriff

Michael Perchick Image
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
New Wake County Sheriff Willie Rowe talks priorities
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New Wake County Sheriff Willie Rowe talks priorities after being sworn-in

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- During Willie Rowe's first day as Wake County Sheriff, he vowed to address staffing levels and enhance community engagement.

"I'm very excited, I'm happy. I'm just looking forward to this opportunity to serve and protect," Rowe said

A May 2021 survey from the Police Executive Research Forum found that agencies reported an 18% increase in resignations and a 45% increase in retirements year-over-year.

"I think we've received about 40 or more applications for new positions, so I'm looking forward to dig in there and let's get those people hired so we can put more officers in the jail, more officers on the street, in the communities," said Rowe, following his oath of office ceremony Tuesday morning. Rowe did not provide specifics on the number of vacancies within the department.

Pews were packed inside St. Matthew's Baptist Church in Raleigh for the event, which featured supporters, members of the Wake County Sheriff's Office, as well as leadership from other law enforcement agencies.

"We have a lot of unincorporated areas in Garner that are in our ETJ (extraterritorial jurisdiction), and it's important that we have those partnerships with the Sheriff's Office to make sure that we don't have any breaks in service to our community," said Garner Police Chief Lorie Smith.

Rowe, who served 28 years with the Wake County Sheriff's Office, is relying on strong prior work relationships as he moves forward in the new role, including with advocates such as Diana Powell.

"Our mission is to prevent individuals from continuing in our criminal-justice system and so we know there are many barriers there, and if they don't have those resources, they will find themselves re-entangled in the system. And so that's why it's so important that we all come together to prevent individuals from continuing," said Powell, the Executive Director of the nonprofit Justice Served NC.

Powell, who attended Tuesday's ceremony, expressed enthusiasm about the beginning of Rowe's tenure, noting that he has been receptive to programs aimed at helping incarcerated people reintegrate into society.

Fellow advocate Dr. Kimberly Muktarian, who is president of Save Our Sons, supports the creation of an Oversight Board for the department and hopes Rowe will prioritize crime prevention over response.

"We're looking for him to come out strong and start addressing the issues that plague our community the most, which is gun violence. So we have gun violence, so why not gun education and gun safety," said Muktarian.

She added the importance of the department maintaining a consistent presence, including in traditionally underserved areas.

"Community engagement is very important. It's about having a presence, having the right presence to encourage and to build those relationships. I believe in leadership management by walking around. So I will be in the community. I will be at the events, I'll be at the churches, I'll be hosting events," said Rowe.

Rowe defeated former Sheriff Gerald Baker in the Democratic primary runoff in July, before besting former Sheriff Donnie Harrison in last month's general election. Rowe said he has spoken with both Baker and Harrison, describing the conversations as "very cordial."