Blackwood running for sheriff on experience, trust

07/06/2014 9:52 AM

07/06/2014 9:52 AM

CHAPEL HILL Charles Blackwood said his experience with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office will let him hit the ground running if voters elect him the next sheriff.

Blackwood and David Caldwell Jr. are running in the July 15 Democratic primary runoff to replace retiring Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass. Pendergrass, who has been the county’s sheriff since 1982, endorsed Blackwood for the office this week.

Pendergrass did not return calls seeking comment.

While Blackwood beat five other candidates to win the May 6 primary, he got less than 40 percent of the vote and only 58 votes more than Caldwell. State law allowed Caldwell to seek a runoff, and with no Republican candidates, the winner this time will be unopposed in November.

Elections reports show Blackwood raised $34,732 – the most money for any candidate in this year’s local elections – and spent $22,886. Caldwell raised $4,623, including more than $3,500 that he and his wife contributed, elections reports show. He spent $3,580, reports show.

Blackwood, 54, is retired after 32 years with the Orange County Sheriff's Office. He currently serves on the Orange County Jury Commission.

While his main goal, if elected, will be curbing property crimes and illegal drug sales, Blackwood said, there are multiple pieces to the puzzle.

The first is a diverse, well-trained department and a strategic plan for targeting crime, he said. Regular training helps deputies avoid injury, cuts medical expenses and reduces overtime pay, he said. It also help deputies keep themselves and other people safe in high-risk situations, he said.

A good working relationship with the district attorney’s office, judges and defense attorneys is just as important, Blackwood said. If the court system has trust in a department or an officer’s ability to build a good case, he said, there aren’t as many questions to slow down the legal process.

“That’s the thing I want the citizens to pay attention to,” Blackwood said. “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. 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.”

The right technology is also key, he said. Computer databases – developed in-house to save money – and other tools could help target potentially high crime areas, he said, while better communications equipment and evidence storage help deputies be more efficient.

As the department’s former major of operations, Blackwood led a diverse group of nearly 140 employees. Still, the department needs a more intensive minority recruiting effort, he said, and more flexibility concerning where deputies can live. Otherwise, the county needs to increase their pay, he said.

Nearly 80 percent of the department’s $12 million budget is allocated to personnel next year.

Deputies do more than arrest criminals, Blackwood said. They also build strong community relations with the public and their neighbors, he said.

“That’s where the troops on the ground make the whole thing turn, and I think that’s why it’s important that your sheriff’s departments should remain deeply rooted in the communities of the county,” he said. “It’s more personable than policing.”

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