Clarence Birkhead | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Clarence Birkhead 

Orange County Sheriff

Full Legal Name: Clarence Franklin Birkhead

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Clarence Birkhead

Office Sought/District: Orange County Office of Sheriff

Date of Birth: 10/28/60

Home Address: 515 Joyce Road, Hillsborough, NC

Mailing Address (if different from home):

Campaign Web Site:

Occupation & Employer: Police Chief, Hillsborough Police Department

Years lived in Orange County: 4 years

Home Phone: (919) 732-2892

Work Phone: (919) 644-0539


1. If elected, what are your top priorities and how will you achieve these goals?

I. Cooperative law enforcement

Our area would benefit from having a comprehensive, regional approach to law enforcement. To make that happen, I will reach out to neighboring jurisdictions – Durham, Caswell, Chatham, and Alamance counties – to share resources and to exchange intelligence to make our communities safer. Crime has no boundaries and no jurisdictions, and criminals are as mobile now as they've ever been.

To that end, I also will work to have the Orange County Sheriff's Office partner with Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, Mebane and Hillsborough Police departments as well as the UNC-Chapel Hill police department, so we can work collaboratively to prevent and solve crime.

II. Professionalize Orange County Sheriff's Office

I will make sure our officers get the training they need to do their jobs. The men and women of the Orange County Sheriff's Office deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential. One of my priorities will be to identify opportunities for professional development in every division of the department.

We must modernize our policies and procedures so they reflect industry best practices. Law enforcement has evolved and we can no longer operate as a responsive agency only. We must be proactive in every facet of law enforcement – from community policing to youth outreach, from problem solving to modern crime fighting. These practices will enable us to better predict and prevent crime in our neighborhoods.

We need to change the way we do law enforcement. We do that by:

Increasing the use of technology.

Updating radio communications so we use the same system as all agencies in the county and across the state. For example, right now every law enforcement agency in the county and most across the state are able to communicate and coordinate with each other on the same radio system. The Orange County Sheriff's Office is not on this system. We need to fix that.

Data-driven policing and crime mapping. We will identify high crime areas and develop strategies that include increasing citizen awareness, targeted enforcement and problem solving.

III. Diversity

The Orange County Sheriff's Office is not reflective of the rich diversity of Orange County. The citizens of Orange County deserve to have a law enforcement agency that represents ALL people living in their jurisdiction. As sheriff, I will develop opportunities for the minorities already employed with the sheriff's office to become more active in every division.

We will also make sure that the efforts of our sheriff's office are reflective of the diversity of our community. That means recognizing that the rich diversity of Orange County should not lead to "focused" efforts on any community, regardless of race or national origin. The sheriff's office will focus on preventing crime instead of targeting stereotypes.

2. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

I am an advocate of social justice. I believe equal and fair treatment should be the cornerstone of our justice system. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." As a law enforcement professional for more than 25 years, it has been my experience and remains my obligation to preserve the rights of all citizens regardless of their race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. As sheriff, I will lead by example and create a culture of tolerance and acceptance.

3. Identify a principled stand you have taken or would be willing to take if elected, even if you suspect it 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 at the NC Pride festivities and parade on behalf of the Duke University president, I gladly accepted. To my knowledge, I was the first chief of police to address this group of constituents. I did so knowing that it could possibly cast me in a negative light to some, but I felt it was the right thing to do. 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 tells me how proud she was of me at that moment, when I represented the office of the chief and the office of the president of Duke University.

4. In some jurisdictions, local law enforcement are being called upon to function as de facto border patrol agents, including detaining persons suspected of being illegal immigrants. What is your opinion about the role of local law enforcement in enforcing U.S. immigration law? How will your office handle the "Secure Communities" program and how transparent will the process be?

My position on this matter is that local law enforcement should not conduct themselves as agents of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is a position I had in Hillsborough despite the actions of the sheriff in a neighboring county, and as sheriff, I would not allow deputies to act as agents of ICE for the purpose of identification and detention (and later deportation) of illegal immigrants.

As local law enforcement, I believe that it is our duty to support efforts related to Homeland Security, when it is clearly articulated that those efforts are directly related to the safety of our communities and our nation. I do not agree with the practice of stopping minorities of any ethnicity to determine their status.

5. Roadblocks and checkpoints can be used as a way to racially profile drivers and passengers. What policies should be in place in regards to roadblocks and checkpoints? Under what circumstances should they be used?

I have heard that in some jurisdictions roadblocks and checkpoints have been used inappropriately to racially profile drivers and passengers. However, this has not been my experience or my practice as a police administrator. In the two agencies that I have led over the last 15 years, we have specific written guidelines for conducting checkpoints and where checkpoints and roadblocks will be set up. These guidelines outline how checkpoints will be conducted and state that every vehicle approaching the checkpoint is to be stopped. This practice greatly minimizes the opportunity for profiling any specific demographic.

Typically, a roadblock is set up in a specific area in response to a criminal act, e.g. looking for a wanted person and/or potential witnesses to a crime. Conversely, checkpoints are used to educate as well as to ensure that the motoring public is abiding by N.C. Motor Vehicle laws (ensuring that drivers are licensed, registrations are valid and proper insurance coverage is in place).

6. What is your opinion on public access to officers' disciplinary records? What types of records should be open?

I would oppose any policy that grants access to an officer's disciplinary file. It is the responsibility of the chief or sheriff to address misconduct by an officer and take appropriate steps to ensure that the behavior is not repeated. Such actions could range from counseling to suspension and/or termination of employment based on the severity of the misconduct. Records that are currently subject to the Public Information Act are the records to be made available upon request.

We must protect the reputation of the officer. I feel that by releasing disciplinary information, we could undermine the officer's ability and authority to perform his or her duties. Unless the officer's actions result in criminal charges, disciplinary actions should remain confidential.

Finally, there are two other considerations. We must at all times protect the safety and security of both the officer and the public. As a chief, I have never allowed an officer to remain on duty when I have had any concern about that person's ability to carry out their duties impartially and appropriately. Similarly, I want to protect that officer's privacy so they are not targeted by criminals at their homes or undermined in their abilities to do their jobs.

Additionally, disciplinary matters can and have been misused in the course of the criminal legal system in ways that do not protect the public, and I believe that any such out-of-context use of that information would undermine public confidence in a balanced legal system.

7. Given this year's budget issues, Identify some areas in the sheriff's department budget where money could be cut and others where more funding is needed.

Without having an opportunity to extensively study the current line-item budget for the sheriff's office, I am not able to give a specific answer.

Having worked in two agencies, one with a significant budget of more than $8 million, I have an acute understanding of fiscal responsibility and managing financial resources. Keeping our department running efficiently and effectively will certainly be a priority and it is a practice of mine to seek alternative funding sources for special projects and to identify areas where spending can be reduced or eliminated while not comprising service. The realities are that through my collaborative policing proposals, the sheriff's office and the various municipal police departments in Orange County will be able to more cost effectively prevent and fight crime than the overlapping systems that exist today.

8. Please access current jail capacity and future needs. How do you balance the two? Are inmates receiving adequate services necessary for rehabilitation, their health and safety? What would you change?

Orange County's detention facility has a significant amount of capacity at 138 beds, however, the sheriff's office reports that the average daily population is between 150-170 inmates, of which more than 60% are federal detainees (either convicted individuals or those awaiting trail).

Jail overcrowding and the number of federal inmates has been an issue in the recent past. As sheriff, I would make every effort to ensure the inmates are appropriately housed and cared for according to state regulations. It is my opinion that there should be balance between the number of federal inmates housed in our jail facility and the capacity to house local offenders when incarceration is appropriate. I want to be a good steward of our county facilities and resources while at the same time assisting our federal partners as much possible, but we should not view jailing federal inmates as a revenue generator when it undermines our Constitutional duties related to incarceration.

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