Bumpy ride ahead with Mecklenburg’s sheriff

Sheriff Garry McFadden says he’ll keep enforcing traffic laws after speed trap causes controversy

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden talks about the tense meeting with Cornelius town commissioners.
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Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden talks about the tense meeting with Cornelius town commissioners.

Updated, 3/24: In case you haven’t noticed, Mecklenburg County: There’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s brought his ego with him. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this much is certain: It’s going to be a bumpy patrol ride.

So it was this week with Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry McFadden, who had a tense meeting with the Cornelius town board on Monday regarding a Feb. 17 operation in which 12 radar-equipped deputies pulled people over on Jetton Road near Lake Norman. The operation was unusual in that the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t often take the lead on speeding operations, and because McFadden didn’t notify the town and its police officers in advance of this one. It was not an improper use of county resources, however, to ticket drivers going 10 mph over the speed limit on a Mecklenburg road.

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McFadden could have simply said that to the Cornelius board. Instead, he made the meeting something bigger. McFadden told commissioners that he believed “privilege” was at play in their questioning, the Observer’s Ely Portillo reported. Cornelius is a predominantly white and moderately affluent town, and Jetton Road leads to wealthy subdivisions like the Peninsula.

McFadden, along with Chief Deputy Rodney Collins, had another message for everyone: The Sheriff’s Office isn’t just going to be conducting traffic operations moving forward. It also will expand its investigative footprint and may take on other enforcement roles normally ceded to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. “We’re more visible because our sheriff is out front,” Collins said. “He’s very visible.”

If any of that is a surprise, then you haven’t been paying attention to Garry McFadden. The former Charlotte homicide detective and reality show star has long been bold, brash and unafraid of the nearest microphone. He also expressed as a candidate that the Sheriff’s Office should be more visible and take on larger problem-solving roles. Those are worthy goals, and there can be value in rattling the law enforcement status quo. McFadden also has fulfilled a campaign promise of ending Mecklenburg’s participation in the controversial 287(g) immigration program, and some will cheer his standing up to town commissioners, who appeared at least a little haughty in calling someone they seem to see as the urban sheriff on the carpet.

Still, Cornelius officials had a legitimate beef about McFadden springing the traffic operation on their town without notice or coordination. McFadden could have deftly handled their questions instead of taking a Trump-like posture and lobbing the flammable accusation of privilege into the meeting.

Relationships matter, and the county functions more smoothly when its agencies and municipalities are working together. And while swinging elbows might be satisfying, it often results in the battles you pick taking up an outsized part of your time. No one in Mecklenburg is served well if the sheriff spends his resources and political capital cleaning up after his ambitiousness.

We hope McFadden finds a balance of pursuing a bold vision without unnecessarily breaking glass and alienating others along the way. Mecklenburg voters didn’t just elect him to be visible. They elected him to be effective.