Note: Following are questions submitted by The Daily Reflector to candidate for Pitt County sheriff Paula Dance and Dance’s responses. Sheriff is a countywide race in which all voters may cast ballots on Nov. 6 and in early voting, which is ongoing through Nov. 3.
Town: Pitt County
Profession: Deputy sheriff, major
Prior political offices: None
Social Media: Facebook/Dance4Sheriff
Political philosophy: A sheriff for everyone
■ Why are you running for sheriff and what distinguishes you from your opponent?
I am running for sheriff because 28 years ago I decided that this profession was my niche, this is what I wanted to do. After many years and much experience, I learned many things about crime, the behavior of criminals and ways in which we can combat crime. One of the most important things that I learned through the years is compassion and empathy for those who have had crime committed against them or their property. Even a stolen bicycle means something to its owner and, as law enforcement officers, we must not take those losses for granted.
I was promoted through the ranks starting as a patrol officer, sergeant of the domestic violence unit, major crimes investigator, lieutenant, captain, and, in 2013, I became a major.
My experience gives me an advantage in recognizing crime patterns, areas that promote crimes and the ability to implement things that will lower crime rates. It is important to understand that the office of the sheriff has many duties outside those handled by municipal agencies. We are responsible for the detention of those charged with crimes, awaiting sentencing or are incarcerated, in keeping the community safe, while meeting the basic and inalienable needs of the inmate.
The sheriff’s office is also solely responsible for the issuance of gun permits, concealed carry permits, service of civil papers, the security of the courts, and the sex offender registry. One must have some knowledge of all these areas of responsibility for which the office is liable. The sheriff is also expected to have the ability to manage a very large budget and how to prioritize money to get the maximum effect. A sheriff must have a fundamental understanding pf the office of sheriff.
I am the only candidate that has experience in all the duties of a sheriff. In fact, I have experience in all areas of responsibility of the sheriff. Crime is down, response times are shorter. Do we have the luxury of waiting four years for a sheriff to learn? My experience significantly postures me well above my opponent and because of this, I can hit the ground running on day one to tackle important and immediate present day issues.
■ What will your top priorities be if you are elected?
My main issues consist of how to keep our children safe in our schools. Gone are the days of students learning how to “stop, drop and roll” in the event of fire. They have been replaced with drills on how to stay safe when someone with nefarious intent enters a school to harm them. I will work closely with the school board to provide resources that they request and ideas that will keep our children safe.
I feel that the opioid epidemic is another area that law enforcement can be proactive in aside from enforcement. I will find ways to identify and reach out to those who are in our jails because of low-level crimes to support their addiction. This will be done through providing resources while incarcerated and when released back into the community. This initiative is a win-win for our community. As those addicted find ways to beat their addiction, the community sees a reduction in crimes perpetuated to feed their habits. Thousands of deaths occur yearly, and many loved ones are desperate for any intervention. It is my intent to do my part as sheriff of Pitt County.
Body cams are another focal issue for me. Body cams not only keep the officer safe and honest, but it provides a better understanding for the public and citizens to see what really happened on the scene.
Again, I can hit the ground running on these issues because I will not have to be trained on the functions of a sheriff’s office.
■ What will your command structure will look like and who will hold those positions?
I have not determined my command structure as of yet because it is too early to do so. I can say, however, that all positions will be retained by the many good men and women who made being a deputy sheriff their first choice and not just a choice after retirement. There are many great officers who, through experience, deserve a place at the table to share their experience and knowledge learned over the years. These positions should not be held by people who either have never had an interest in the sheriff’s office or worked their way up the chain to get those key positions. My administration will consist of current veteran officers with the knowhow to get the job done. Even more, through my decision making process, I will continue to mirror our community with qualified people.
■ Would you hire your opponent in your administration if he or she wanted to work there?
As any potential employee must do, I would require any applicant to submit an application. Experience, knowledge and credentials factor into any decision in hiring. All desiring to become employed will be considered upon passing pretesting required by N.C. Sheriff’s Training and Standards.
■ What will you do to increase the number of deputies patrolling the growing number of residential areas that fall outside of municipal jurisdictions in addition to the county’s rural areas?
The Pitt County Sheriff’s Office has always and continues to have staffing concerns. As more residents continue a pattern of moving out into the rural areas, our workload and area of responsibilities continue to grow. The needs of the community is ever-evolving and as the community changes, so do we. I will continuously assess the needs of the community, as well as continuing to ask the county commissioners to fund those needs.
■ What measures would you support and what actions can you take to keep guns and other weapons out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill?
The laws in place now take appropriate measure in vetting those who apply. Background checks, mental health checks and other local checks are currently in place to make sure that guns are not getting into the wrong hands. Also, the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office employs a full-time and a part-time employee whose sole job is to insure that these check are in compliance.
■ Do you think that the state should allow local authorities to determine for themselves where and how to display Confederate memorials, and do you think it is appropriate for a monument to confederate dead to stand on the grounds of the Pitt County Courthouse?
My job is to enforce all laws, and personal opinion has no bearing on the enforcement of laws. Peaceful protest has always been a part of the fabric of America. However, vigilantism and destruction of public and private property will not be tolerated.
■ The majority of people arrested, charged and prosecuted for crimes in Pitt County are black, perpetuating the conviction among many African-Americans that the justice system is inherently biased against them. How do you respond to constituents who hold that point of view?
It is the duty of law enforcement to not arrest based on color but rather on crimes committed. Those prosecuted for crimes they are charged with and their subsequent sentencing is done by the judicial system. Of course it is my ultimate hope that justice prevail in all cases.
■ What steps can be taken to address the reality that a disproportionate number of black people, young men in particular, commit crimes?
Today, one of our biggest concerns is a mutual understanding and respect between law enforcement and the public. During my 28 year career, I have always taken the opportunity to educate all people on appropriate responses and interactions with law enforcement. We must rely on others to serve as role models as well.
■ Charges of cronyism, favoritism and inappropriate relationships have cast a shadow over previous administrations in the sheriff’s office. What will you do to maintain professionalism at the department?
I will create better policies to ensure that hiring criteria are followed. The public not only expects but demands professionalism from the sheriff’s office. Throughout my 28 year career I have endeavored to maintain professionalism not only with the public but also within the sheriff’s office.
■ What will you do as sheriff to ensure that the office conducts all of its business in a manner that ensures transparency and access to the public?
It is my intent to maintain transparency by continuing to allow the public access to public information. Determinations on what is and what is not public information are always based on current statutes.
■ Hundreds of illegal immigrants live and work in the Pitt County area. They are building homes and families, they go to church and do jobs many other people don’t want to do. What action will your administration take when it encounters illegal immigrants?
Under my administration, our Latino community will still continue to receive the same level of service as the past administration. All laws are applicable to everyone in the community. I will continue to follow the laws as written.
■ If there is an issue you would like to address not covered in the questions, please address it here:
Candidate did not answer