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4 candidates for Mecklenburg Sheriff square off

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

The Republican candidates for Mecklenburg County sheriff talked about changes they would bring to the office if elected, while the Democrats sparred over who was most fit to lead the 1,300-person office.

The statements came Tuesday, as the four men vying to be Mecklenburg sheriff squared off in front of television cameras, two days before the first voters cast ballots.

The Mecklenburg sheriff’s debates will be televised May 4 on WTVI, but air times had not been finalized on Tuesday. The primary is May 6. Early voting begins Thursday.

Chris Hailey, director of public safety training at Central Piedmont Community College, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police auto theft detective Louis Rango are competing in the Republican primary.

Human resources recruitment manager Antoine Ensley is going against Irwin Carmichael, a retired firefighter and a reserve captain in the Sheriff’s Office who trains new recruits in self-defense in the Democratic primary.

Ensley sought to portray Carmichael as a continuation of outdated policies in the Sheriff’s Office that need a fresh look in their half-hour debate. He also questioned Carmichael’s leadership experience in the Sheriff’s office.

Ensley has told the Observer that Carmichael doesn’t supervise people as most captains do.

But Carmichael has said he has plenty of leadership experience. He said he has trained nearly all of the 1,300 members of the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office. He also pointed to his management skills in the private sector as the owner of the a group of martial arts schools.

“My duty with the Sheriff’s Office is training, crime prevention,” he said.

Current Sheriff Chipp Bailey is a Democrat. Carmichael lauded many of Bailey’s programs, but said he would seek to find more efficiencies for taxpayer dollars. Ensley said as sheriff he would explore successful jail models from across the country, including one that would send juvenile offenders to jail only as a last resort.

During the Republican debate, Chris Hailey said he work to modernize the Sheriff’s Office. He told viewers he’d like to open jail substations to decrease the amount of time it takes officers to process people who’ve been arrested.

He also mentioned exploring whether magistrates could set bonds for people via video. Many inmates currently make their first appearance by video.

Rango said his priority as sheriff would be on rehabilitating juveniles who wind up in Mecklenburg’s jail. He said he’d also like to re-examine housing juvenile offenders in Mecklenburg County, instead of shipping them to other counties.

“Being in auto theft for the last seven years, that’s the lowest crime on the totem pole. If you’re not helped by somebody, you tend to go on up the chain (to more serious crimes).”

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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