Clarence Birkhead | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Clarence Birkhead 

Candidate for Durham County Sheriff

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Clarence Birkhead

Full legal name, if different: Clarence Franklin Birkhead

Party: Democratic

Date of Birth: 10/1960

Campaign Web Site: Birkheadfordurham.com

Occupation & Employer: Business & Police Executive Consultant/Self-employed

Years lived in Durham: Moved to Durham in 1988

Home phone: 919-323-8243

Email: birkhead@birkheadfordurham.com


1. How do you rate the current functioning of the Sheriff’s Office? What’s good? What’s not so good and needs improvement? If elected, what are your priorities?

I would rate the current function of the Sherriff’s Office as fair when it comes to its use of technology but poor with regards to their community operations. The office is out of touch and accepts a role of being both detached and uninvolved with the community for which it serves.

What is good about the Durham County Sheriff’s Office is the men and women who strive to perform day in and day out to improve Durham County. I commend them for investing the effort at doing their best under the current limitations.

What is not so good about the office currently is the lack of diversity, shortage of professional development opportunities, and absence of a clear vision that reflects the progression we see in all other parts of the city and county.

What needs improving is the level of comprehensive and collaborative approach to law enforcement and public safety issues. The current administration does not attend to the entirety of Durham County. The current administration focuses well on areas outside the city limits but fails to serve in like fashion those residents in the city limits.

I advocate One Community One Durham with a focus on a comprehensive approach to addressing matters of public safety. If elected, developing those relationships and partnerships that enhance our ability to provide high-quality law enforcement, youth services and detention service will be a priority. Additionally, I will create an Office of Public Advocacy which will function as a direct communication portal for citizens to share their ideas and concerns with the sheriff’s office.

2. Some residents complain of poor relations between minorities and Durham law enforcement, even alleging racial profiling. If elected, do you anticipate making changes to better serve the African-American and Latino communities?

My background and body of work demonstrate that I have always been an advocate for marginalized citizens in Durham. If elected, I do anticipate making changes to better serve residents of all communities who feel they are being mistreated, underserved, and not heard. Increasing consistency and visibility to establish direct contact and build lasting partnerships with those of the African American, Latino, Lesbian, Gay Bi-Sexual and transgender (LGBT) communities is a first step towards this effort. Establishing resident teams with an understanding and level of awareness to focus specifically on the issues that affect these underserved groups is a second step to build trust and create rapport. This will ensure the safety needs are met, concerns are communicated, issues are addressed, and follow up actions are pursued.

3. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you’ve identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.

After working more than 30 years in both public sector as a Deputy, Police Officer, Chief of Police and in the private sector as Assoc.Vice President of Security and Consultant, I have both experienced and successfully managed all of these issues identified earlier. For instance, the current office struggles to express a clear vision that is progressive and advanced in its ideas to move our county forward. As Sheriff I would strive to establish a vision for the department that encompasses the concept of “One Community One Durham.” I would lean on my experiences and history in this community to foster a partnership with the Durham Police Department. I would collaborate in a way that would expand services to address quality of life issues throughout the city and county. I have successfully worked during my time as Chief to extend the jurisdiction of the Duke Police Department to include parts of the city. As a result, I plan to draw upon those abilities to build a collaborative atmosphere between the Sheriff’s office and Durham Police Department in a way that expands capacity to support the current police officers and improves the safety of the community while preserving resources and minimizing costs.

The current office also lacks diversity in its leadership and falls short in offering long term professional development options for the staff. I have in my leadership instituted targeted recruiting campaigns to increase diversity by creating an applicant pool of candidates that varied in gender, education, and ethnicity. Divisional Assignment Rotation programs were also established under my leadership to expose employees in one division to the skills and opportunities available in other divisions. These programs led to officers participating in the Master Police Officers Program and leadership training opportunities with institutions like the Administrative Officers Program (AMOP) at NC State. This approach not only expanded professional development opportunities but also ensured minority staff were equipped with the skills to grow within our agency adding to not only the diversity of our force but also to the high leadership as well.

If elected Sheriff of Durham County I would draw upon these experiences to develop the department into one that is more reflective of the multiplicity we see in our community.

4. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.

My mission is to create a sheriff's office that serves all people creating “One Community One Durham” that focuses on rebuilding trust, integrity and fairness in law enforcement. The Office of Public Advocacy that I would create not only provides citizens with a point of contact but also establishes an office that would also hold me and ALL members of the department accountable for our actions. Any complaints, mistreatment or lack of quality services will be addressed swiftly via this office. We will follow up with every person who reports such incidents to the Office of the Sheriff. Believing that “…injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” (Martin Luther King, Jr) I as Sheriff with my Office of Advocacy will do all we can to contribute to creating and maintaining a just Durham for all.

5. Despite recent growth in business and urban development, Durham is perceived by some to be a place of persistent crime. Is that a fair assessment?

That is not a fair assessment, as Durham County is centrally located in North Carolina and a hub for higher education. We are “The City of Medicine”, a major research and bio-technology center and home of major artistic companies. We have rich and culturally diverse communities.

Durham has no more crime than other cities of like-size in North Carolina. As sheriff, I will work to continue to reduce crime in Durham by working collaboratively with our city police, district attorney, judges and private partners.

We will aggressively address these negative perceptions, under my leadership and direction. While we make sure we protect our trails and parks and ensure the public's safety through innovative and collaborative approaches, we must also equally and actively promote the rich and vibrate lifestyle we experience. As sheriff, I will be an ambassador for Durham, my home.

6. Durham’s jail and courts are full of drug defendants. Has the so-called War on Drugs been taken too far?

I don't think there is a war on drugs and view the efforts made to incarcerate low-level street dealers under this “war” have been grossly ineffective. We all know drugs and drug use negatively impact our quality of life and rip at the fabric of our communities. Our focus therefore should be on impeding the ability of those persons engaged in maintaining a criminal enterprise from generating and regenerating money.

7. What do you think about the decriminalization of marijuana?

I have publicly stated my position is that simple possession of marijuana will not be an enforcement priority under my leadership. I would oppose the decriminalization of marijuana in cases of trafficking, incidents where kids are exposed, maintaining a criminal enterprise or related to other felonious offenses committed as a part of that criminal enterprise.

8. Some inmates have complained about unsanitary jail conditions. Is there any way to eliminate such complaints?

Yes, I understand that cleanliness of the detention facility is an issue and will address this by:

• Personally conducting monthly inspections to identify potential issues related to unsanitary conditions
• Evaluate the current contract provider(s) and hold them accountable for delivering appropriate cleaning services
• Involve inmates in the maintenance and cleanliness of their personal areas and the whole of the facility

9. When you suspect a newly admitted inmate is an undocumented immigrant, do you feel the need to report it to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement?

No, our priority is to ensure the individual is afforded access to the legal assistance needed to navigate the judicial system. If, in the course of those proceedings it is discovered the person is undocumented and a fugitive then the proper authorities will be notified.

10. Identify a principled stand you have taken or would be willing to take if elected, even if you suspect might cost you popularity with voters.

I've always stood firm on the belief that everyone should be treated equally. Therefore, in my early days as chief of police at Duke University, when I was asked to speak on behalf of the president at the NC Pride festivities and parade; I gladly accepted. To my knowledge, I was the first sitting chief of police to speak during the NC Pride event. I did so knowing that it could possibly cast me in a negative light to some, but I felt strongly about the honor to speak at this event and to represent Duke University by doing so.

I have always tried to take the moral high ground throughout my career, even when it was not popular to do so. And to this day, my wife will tell me how proud she was of me in that moment, when I stood as a representative and servant for all people. My position that all citizens deserve to be treated equally and fairly, regardless of their sexual orientation, background, religious beliefs or cultural heritage demonstrates my firm stand on being a Sheriff that fosters an environment of fairness, integrity, and justice for our community. Regardless of how unpopular some may view this position it is my unwavering belief that we are One Community One Durham for all people.

11. Identify some areas in the sheriff’s department budget where money could be cut and others where more funding is needed.

I will conduct a SWOT Analysis on the current operations of the Sheriff's Offices to identify the Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats. Once completed, this analysis will be overlaid with the budget to strategically trim and cost in areas where inefficiencies and excessive spending have been identified.

Considering the need to have more funds allocated for training and compensation, my goal is to institute private partnerships to expand development, and reallocate any available resources where able to improve compensation and build employee incentive programs. This will enhance service delivery, increase retention, and build moral.

Identifying alternative funding sources will also be a priority of my administration to assure we grow our resources that will enhance officer safety, increase compensation packages, and expand professional development opportunities.

  • Candidate for Durham County Sheriff

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