CHAPEL HILL — Orange County voters will choose between two experienced lawmen in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff for sheriff.
The field to replace retiring Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass, who has served since 1982, started with six candidates. Charles Blackwood, who retired in 2012 as the sheriff’s major of operations, won the May 6 primary by 58 votes but got less than 40 percent of the total. State law let second-place finisher David Caldwell Jr., a former sheriff’s lieutenant, seek a runoff.
Blackwood was the top fundraiser, bringing in $34,732 and spending $22,886 in the first three months of this year, reports show. Caldwell raised $4,623 and spent $3,580. He and his wife contributed more than $3,500 of the money raised.
Since there are no Republican candidates, the winner will be unopposed in November. Pendergrass has endorsed Blackwood, who now serves on the Orange County Jury Commission.
Blackwood, 54, said his 32 years of experience will let him hit the ground running on his top priorities, curbing property crimes and illegal drug sales. A well-trained force and effective technology are important, he said, but so is a working relationship with the district attorney’s office, judges and defense attorneys.
“I have been working in that Sheriff’s Office for all these years with the attorneys, hand-in-hand with the judges, the DA’s office,” Blackwood said. “They do have a high amount of trust in me. They know that I can present to them an investigation that will not try to pull the wool over their eyes.”
Caldwell, 61, is retired after two decades with the Sheriff’s Office. He agreed training is key to preventing injuries and keeping deputies and the public safe. The Sheriff’s Office, however, could benefit from closer community ties and better use of existing resources, he said.
As director of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, Caldwell said he learned how people who play together and connect on a personal level can bridge their differences. He also learned how to do more with less by combining resources with other agencies, he said. The department’s reserve deputies are a largely untapped resource for covering the county and giving full-time deputies time off, he said.
“You have some, they may not be able to work the roads, but they can work the courthouse or they can work the jail or even in the office,” he said. “You have 20, 30 years of experience and knowledge that sometimes is not being utilized.”
The Sheriff’s Office has roughly 140 employees, and about 80 percent of its $12 million budget next year pays for personnel. Caldwell and Blackwood agreed it’s important to have a diverse force, especially since most people get to know the department when they go to jail or interact with deputies.
“That’s where the troops on the ground make the whole thing turn,” Blackwood said, “and I think that’s why it’s important that your sheriff’s departments should remain deeply rooted in the communities of the county. It’s more personable than policing.”
More could be done to build those ties, Caldwell said, especially with young people, parents and community groups, such as churches. Understanding why someone might be committing crimes – whether to buy drugs or feed their family – may head off future trouble, he said.
“We’ve got to take these blinders off, we’ve got to get outside the box, and we’ve got to work as a group,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re going to let the dope pushers and the rest of these guys (go). The law is still going to be enforced in Orange County, but we’ve got to do more.”