2 Republicans vie for Pasquotank sheriff

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Pasquotank County Sheriff's Lt. Bill Ward

Tommy Wooten.jpg

By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Monday, April 16, 2018

As division chiefs with the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office, Bill Ward and Tommy Wooten both have their own ideas about how the office should operate if they’re given the opportunity to serve as sheriff.

Ward, 67, who heads the patrol division of the sheriff’s office. and Wooten, 36, who heads the civil process division, are vying for the Republican nomination for sheriff in the May 8 primary.

The winner of the Ward-Wooten primary will face in November one of four Democrats vying May 8 for their party’s nomination for sheriff: Eddie Graham, Brent McKecuen, Tobie McPherson and Todd Wagner. The winner of the general election will succeed Sheriff Randy Cartwright, who is not seeking re-election.

Ward said one of the things he would do differently if he’s elected sheriff would be to establish a street crimes unit. Another would be ensuring that the full force of five patrol deputies on each shift is maintained so that there are deputies actively patrolling the county, he said.

The third thing Ward would do differently would be to form a juvenile division. He said with changes in juvenile crime law it’s important to have officers with specialized expertise in responding to juvenile crime.

“We also need to work with faith-based groups and the District Attorney’s Office about placing more responsibility back on the parents,” Ward said.  That could include parenting classes for parents with a focus on “not letting the streets raise their children,” he said.

Wooten said something he would do differently would be to implement more advanced technology, including body cameras. The sheriff’s office currently doesn’t use the devices used by the Elizabeth City Police Department, Edenton Police Department and other law enforcement agencies around the country.

“Body cameras protect the officer as well as the citizens,” Wooten said.

He also would purchase portable tablets for deputies to have in their cars as well as other updated technology, he said.

Wooten said he also favors individual accountability for employees and more recognition for deputies who have gone the extra mile. He said he would like to see the sheriff’s office become more of a family, which he said would improve morale.

Public communication

Both candidates believe transparency and communication with the public are important tools for the sheriff’s office.

“Transparency is very important as well as a relationship with the media,” Ward said.

Ward said he favors a community policing model in which people will know the deputies in their area. That would allow deputies to build trust and in turn get more information from the public, he said.

“The public is our eyes and ears on the streets,” Ward said. “We have to be transparent. We have to tell the people what is going on.”

Wooten said partnerships with the community are important. He said a volunteer unit could help out as a liaison between the public and the sheriff’s office.

“Our social media outlets need to be popping all the time, and also (we need to be communicating with) radio and newspaper,” Wooten said.

Wooten believes a lot of people would love to volunteer to help the sheriff’s office with communications.

Immigration enforcement

Asked what role the sheriff’s office should play in immigration enforcement, Ward said the office needs to be vigilant in enforcing immigration laws.

“I think that we have an obligation under the federal guidelines,” Ward said. “We have to take a front-line approach.”

The patrol division deals with immigration-related matters almost on a daily basis, he said.

“We should be checking their immigration status and if they are in the country illegally and if they are charged with crimes they should be held until ICE makes a determination,” Ward said, referring to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Wooten said the sheriff’s office has had incidents where officers have identified undocumented immigrants and have contacted ICE, and the agency really hasn't done anything in response.

“As sheriff I will follow what the law is,” Wooten said.

School safety

Both Wooten and Ward agree school safety is a paramount concern.

“In a perfect world I would love to have seven more school resource officers,” Wooten said.

But until there is funding for those SROs, Wooten said, he would be in favor of having an armed security force set up with criteria similar to what the N.C. Criminal Justice Training and Standards is working on. A prerequisite for joining the force would be retirement from either the military or law enforcement after at least two years of service, he said.

“Plan number three is to get willing teachers to volunteer to concealed-carry at school,” Wooten said, acknowledging that is the most controversial of the plans.

"There would be extensive training behind that," Wooten said. It’s controversial, he said, "but yes I think it could work — absolutely."

Ward also said that he would like to have SROs at all schools and would work to see state and federal grant funding secured for those positions. 

Until funding becomes available, however, “we need to use volunteer teachers who are certified and willing to carry firearms,” Ward said. He said he, too, supports using retired military personnel and retired law enforcement officers as school security guards until more funding becomes available for hiring more SROs.

Crime problems

Ward said he believes the opioid/heroin crisis is the biggest crime problem the county faces right now.

“What we’re seeing is the rise of opioid/heroin abuse,” Ward said, adding that 80-85 percent of all crimes ultimately stem from abuse of opioids and heroin.

“We have to address that to get our crime rate down,” Ward said.

The state and federal governments are looking at regulations on the manufacture and sale of opioids and physicians are looking at limits on opioid prescriptions, all of which can help, according to Ward.

In addition, Ward said he would work with addicts who are willing to come forward and seek treatment.

“For those who are arrested, we need to work closely with the district attorney to see that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Ward said. “We also need to look at beefing up our investigative approach to the issue.”

The sheriff’s office also needs a street crimes unit that would be a joint effort with the Elizabeth City Police Department, Ward said.

“It’s going to take a collective effort from all law enforcement — state, federal and local,” he said.

Wooten said in recent years the county’s biggest crime problem has been breaking and entering. He believes that stems mostly from the opioid abuse problem.

Wooten said he would acquire two additional canines for the sheriff’s office to combat the drug problem.

“And I would get all deputies more advanced training for drug interdiction,” Wooten said. “If we bring the drug problem a little more under control I think the crime rate would automatically drop.”

Treatment for drug addicts also is important, Wooten said.

"You have to burn this candle at both ends," he said.

Bill Ward

Age: 67

Occupation: Lieutenant with the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office; heads patrol division

Education: Graduate, Central High School, Elizabeth City; some college coursework

Military service: U.S. Army, 14 years

Previous political campaigns: None

Civic, community affiliations: Past Master Mason, Eureka Lodge

Family: Married, three grown children

Tommy Wooten

Age: 36

Occupation: Sergeant, civil processing division, Pasquotank Sheriff's Office

Education: Graduate, Basic Law Enforcement Training, College of The Albemarle

Military service: None

Previous political campaigns: None

Civic, community affiliations: Member, Weeksville Lions Club; member, Fraternal Order of Police; member, Blue Line Charities

Family: Married, two children