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Dance is first black woman to take oath as sheriff

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Pitt County Sheriff, Paula Dance left, sits next to the former sheriff, Neil Elks during Dance's swearing-in ceremony, Monday.

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Monday, December 3, 2018

Paula Dance entered the history books when she was sworn in as Pitt County’s sheriff during a Monday morning ceremony at Community Christian Church in Greenville.  

Dance is the first woman of African descent to become sheriff in the state of North Carolina, according to the N.C. Sheriff’s Association. The ceremony took place at 9 a.m. and elected officials, dignitaries and community leaders from across the state packed the sanctuary to see Dance, who said she has been hard at work preparing for her new role.  

“It’s been a very long day already,” Dance said. “I got up early this morning and was taking care of some last minute things to get prepared for my swearing in. I’m ecstatic, I’m happy it’s over with and I’m ready to get to work, hit the ground running and protect the county.” 

And to help her with protecting the county, Dance has a newly sworn command staff to help lead the 330-plus of employees of the sheriff’s office. 

Randy Gentry, who was chief deputy under former Sheriff Neil Elks, will help Dance oversee administrative matters, while Chauncey Congleton will lead investigations and John Guard will oversee patrol division. 

For Dance, taking the baton from Elks and assuming the role of sheriff is something that has yet to sink in fully.  

“It’s still surreal in a sense. I realize that this was a big undertaking, that there were not many people who were my gender and especially not my gender and race running for sheriff. I knew I had put in the hard work and I knew I put in the time and I proved myself out there and decided to go for it. There was nowhere else for me to go but up. The glass ceiling has been broken and it doesn’t stop from there,” Dance said. 

Elks said Monday that Dance’s election is something he couldn’t be more excited about. 

“We’re quite excited about having a new leader, and we know exactly what she’s going to do because I’ve trained her for the last eight years. Couldn't wish for a better day,” Elks said. “She’s a sheriff for all the people and she understands the dynamics of the sheriff’s office, the ins and outs, what we do here and she has a lot of training and understanding of what the needs are in the county. She is very in tune with the community, she knows what they want and she is very ready to take the job.” 

And Dance said she hopes to inspire other women and people of color to work hard and go after their dreams.

“I hope I can be a role model for other women, for other people of color to look at and say, ‘You know, hey, if I do the right things and do what it takes to get out here and work hard, I can do this.’ It’s a lot of responsibility that is on my shoulders right now, but I feel confident and comfortable that I can handle it.”

Her first priorities, other than signing off paperwork on newly sworn deputies and detention officers, are to prepare for budget workshops and procure body cameras.   

“There will be upcoming meetings of course with the budgets coming up, sort of like preliminary meetings, those will be times I will certainly throw in the body cams we so desperately need,” Dance said. “We need to have a way to be able to show what actually happened on the scene whether it’s good or bad. It needs to be verified in some type of way so there’s not this perception out there that officers are covering for officers or any other perceptions.”

Other issues Dance said are at the forefront include working on providing mental health resources at the detention center. 

“Our detention officers, thankfully already have taken some training in some of the areas that I was looking at providing resources. There’s a program in Virginia that we kind of want to model. I’m still looking at that, and we’re going to try and get the nuts and bolts together on that and see if we can’t make a well-oiled machine and at least be able to have some resources for people who are addicted for when they leave our facilities. We’re going to move forward on that and hope to get it in action soon and see what it looks like.

Dance said citizens can expect the same level of service from the sheriff’s office. “For the most part, it’s business as usual,” Dance said. 

And Dance said that she hopes the community can unite together in its efforts to fight crime.  

“It was a journey to get here but I’m here and here we are. This is not the end of the journey and I want you all to understand that this is only the beginning. As we move forward in unity and in inclusiveness, let’s all work together to keep our community safe. I am proud to be elected as your new sheriff. And even prouder to lead the way for others to follow. Pitt County, I am proud of you and I hope I can make you as proud of me as well.” 

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566.  Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR

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