Regarding the May 8 editorial “A wrong turn in Harnett County”: Having served as a sheriff for 23 years and as a deputy sheriff for nine years prior to that, I must take issue with your statement, “The ‘Deadly Force’ series reveals that North Carolina’s reliance on elected sheriffs can provide more insularity than accountability. A powerful sheriff who’s a major employer in a rural county can be hard to challenge and harder to unseat.”
While a police chief is a bureaucrat who answers to a manager or small board, the county sheriff answers to the people of his county. And sheriffs tend to be natives or longtime residents of their counties while police chiefs are often brought in from afar with no ties or long-term interest in their jurisdictions. Many are gone within five years when they are vested in the retirement system.
Sheriffs are elected by their fellow citizens. The closer government is to the ballot box, the more accountable it is. Additionally the law permits residents to petition the court to remove from office a sheriff or any other law enforcement officer for valid cause. There are ample remedies available to residents.
What’s so concerning to me within the series was the flagrant disregard those officers apparently have for their oaths of office. Each of them swore to support, maintain and defend both the state and federal Constitutions. Those Constitutions require protecting the rights of all.
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It is not the duty of officers to punish offenders – that’s for the courts – but apparently some of those deputies were absent when that was taught.
The writer was the sheriff of Union County from 1979 to 2002. The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the editorial.