Durham News: Opinion

Gaspo: Sheriff Mike Andrews submits to questioning

Sheriff Mike Andrews has several pictures in his office of his late parents. He also has on display a perfectly preserved 54-year old letter from his mother, Vivian, which she wrote for her son when he was 2 years old.

One line reads: “May I be what I should be, to help you along life’s way.”

“On the rough days, “ Andrews said, “that letter keeps me grounded.”

The sheriff recently sat on a chair on the ground of his back lawn and did the ice bucket challenge to raise money for research on ALS. The video is on Facebook. Andrews has been a steady supporter of numerous charitable initiatives, Alzheimer's included. His mother suffered from Alzheimer’s for a few years before she died.

Only days before her passing, Vivian’s husband “Bunkey” realized, for the first time, that his wife did not recognize him even one little bit. He died within 24 hours while driving home from the store. Mike Andrews heard the sirens and went to the scene.

“Dad died of a broken heart,” the sheriff said.

With these sentiments as a backdrop, I proceeded to interview the sheriff, who will also be the next sheriff after the November election, where he is unchallenged.

So your deputies do not get written permission before doing consent searches of vehicles.

Andrews: We don’t have significant complaints with the way we do business. But we are formulating an opinion on that right now. If I do it, I want to make sure it’s safe for the deputies. Terrible things can happen in a second, like when trooper Michael Potts was shot last year.

You just announced a major in-car video program for your patrol deputies.

Andrews: Yes. I wanted to make sure that if one of my men or women were shot, we could do our best to find out who did it. So I could tell the family.

What about if one of your deputies had an incident with a detainee?

Andrews: I want to know the truth about any kind of event.

What are the three areas you’ve really focused on during your three years as sheriff?

Andrews: Technology and social media. People skills for our staff of 400 plus, especially those in the jail and out in the community. Employee recognition and morale.

Your dad owned the well-known Andrews Kountry Kafe on Angier Ave. You’ve said his communication skills carried over to you.

Andrews: He cared about and knew how to talk to people. And he served more free meals than you can count to folks who didn’t have anything, but they came in the door and were hungry. ... In my job, for example, I know that in the detention center, there are lots of good people who fell upon hard circumstances. There are people with mental health issues. There are bad people there, too…absolutely. But I try to treat everyone with dignity, and I tell all my deputies, “But for the grace of God, it could be any of us over there behind bars.”

When your dad had the grill, you worked there a lot.

Andrews: I sure did. Washed a lot of dishes.

Did you get paid?

Andrews: I sure didn’t. I learned to cook, though. Hamburgers and hot dogs, at least. And even after I became a deputy, I’d go over there for lunch. If the tables needed wiping off, I did that.

Pam Andrews is a long-time teacher with DPS. Tougher job: teacher or sheriff?

Andrews: Teacher, hands down.

You love animals and wildlife, grew up around them on a farm and oversee Animal Services now. Did you have a favorite Shetland pony as a child?

Andrews: We had so many ponies, but I really I loved Chilly the horse. My dad’s last horse.

I see you shaved your long-standing mustache a few weeks ago. Is it a new you now?

Andrews: Nah, I don’t change much. I got tired of pulling out white hairs, though. It hurts.

What do you look for when hiring new deputies?

Andrews: Someone who can reason, has compassion, common sense, and wants to serve.

There’s a man who puts nasty signs and messages up about you. I saw two signs when I drove in. What’s the deal?

Andrews: Well, let’s just say I had to Google the word “nefarious”

You just got a significant raise. A fancy vacation soon, perhaps?

Andrews: I wish my deputies could get the same kind of increase. As for time away, my son’s getting married next month in the mountains. We can’t wait.

What does it mean to wear the badge?

Andrews: It means I’m responsible for the safety of a whole lot of people: my employees; citizens in 300 square miles of the county; people in and out of the courthouse and those who work there; and everyone in the detention center. I never take a second of calm for granted. Not in this job.

You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tgaspo@gmail.com or 919-219-0042.