For the first time in two decades, neither candidate for the top law enforcement job in Mecklenburg County has prior experience as a law enforcement executive.
So the two men vying to be sheriff say voters want to know as much about how they’ll learn on the job as they want to know about their prior experience.
Irwin Carmichael is the Democratic nominee for sheriff. Chris Hailey is the Republican nominee. In Mecklenburg, the sheriff runs the jail, oversees security at the courthouse and serves court papers.
Sheriff Chipp Bailey, who announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, was chief deputy before being tapped as sheriff. Before him, Jim Pendergraph was a deputy chief at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Carmichael, who’s been endorsed by the two former sheriffs, said the office is run well and that a vote for him means good and efficient programs will continue. He started as a reserve with the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office in 1986.
As a reserve he was unpaid, but he reached the rank of captain. He’s a ninth-degree black belt in Shorinji Kempo, and the martial arts institute he owns was contracted to train deputies. He’s also taken special assignments transporting the county’s most dangerous criminals.
“I’ve been around the Sheriff’s Office for 28 years, coming up on 29 years that I’ve been in the office and seeing all the aspects of it,” Carmichael said last week at a church in South Charlotte, where he had just hosted a safety seminar.
“There is a great team that is already in place … and they’re going to be my resource to learning how to be the sheriff of Mecklenburg County.”
Hailey has been a police officer in Raleigh and served as an N.C. Highway Patrol trooper stationed in Mecklenburg and as a training coordinator. He recently retired as the head of public safety instruction at Central Piedmont Community College.
He said he has spent the months since winning the Republican primary telling voters he is an outsider with lots of law enforcement and organizational experience but with fresh ideas. He also said he’s been trying to reach out to the black and Hispanic communities.
“(Carmichael) is a part of the establishment, and I’m not,” Hailey said. “I’m going to bring a fresh perspective that hasn’t been there in probably over 20 years. Men and women (in the Sheriff’s Office) are tired of the status quo.”
In an interview during a campaign stop at a barbershop in east Charlotte, he spoke about his chief idea: opening satellite sheriff’s offices in the northern and southern parts of the county that would temporarily hold detainees.
The move, Hailey said, means officers who make arrests far from the center city will have to spend less time carting prisoners to jail and can spend more time on the street. Prisoners would see a magistrate via video conference. Mecklenburg residents could also complete administrative tasks such as filing a restraining order.
“These smaller agencies don’t have that many people working for them, so if you take one (officer) out of the neighborhood, guess what, your neighborhood is now vulnerable,” Hailey said. “It’s also going to save the taxpayers a lot of money.”
Carmichael’s campaign has countered that the Mecklenburg municipalities outside of Charlotte make only 5 percent of the arrests. “It doesn’t make financial sense having a north and south arrest processing center,” Carmichael said.
Carmichael said he wants to make the Sheriff’s Office more visible and responsive to the community and to start an interfaith council to get advice and suggestions from faith leaders. And he wants the Sheriff’s Office to host quarterly town hall meetings. He wants to research whether reserve or regular deputies can serve as resource officers in elementary schools.
Carmichael has gotten several endorsements: former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, the Mecklenburg branch of the Fraternal Order of Police and former County Manager Harry Jones.
Hailey has been endorsed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Political Caucus and the president of the N.C. Troopers Association.