Nov 4, 2022 - News

The race to move the Wake's sheriff's department forward

Photo illustration of Willie Rowe and Donnie Harrison.

Democrat Willie Rowe and Republican Donnie Harrison. Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: Courtesy of the Rowe and Harrison campaigns.

The two contenders for Wake County Sheriff, Democrat Willie Rowe and Republican Donnie Harrison, have centered their campaigns on public safety and overcoming a rocky few years for the department.

Why it matters: The winner will replace embattled Sheriff Gerald Baker and assume several difficult challenges, including: restoring morale in the department after numerous employee complaints and lawsuits, healing its relationship with the community, and attracting quality candidates to fill dozens of vacant positions.

  • "It starts at the top," Harrison told Axios. "You got to have a leader that's going to get out and work; you got to have a leader that's going to be open to the public."

Flashback: Baker, who served just one term before losing in the primary runoff this summer, faced criticism for the sheriff department's handling of the 2020 protests that followed the murder of George Floyd.

In interviews with Axios, Harrison and Rowe both tout their decades of experience in law enforcement.

  • Harrison, who started his career with the state highway patrol, served as sheriff for 16 years before he lost in 2018 to Baker.
  • Rowe, born and raised in Wake County, climbed the ranks of the sheriff's department for 28 years until his retirement in 2013.

In response to increased crime in Raleigh, both candidates have emphasized that to make people feel safe, the department has to recruit top-tier candidates, and they'll have to raise pay.

  • To retain employees, Harrison wants to implement better training that will bring the department up to par with other agencies across the country, Harrison said.
  • Rowe said he wants to take a "holistic" approach to recruiting and retainment — raising pay, working with employees on career development — to make them feel valued and appreciated, he said.
  • Rowe wants to "create a whole new environment where people actually would love to come to work, love to be a part of this department and not feel like there's no direction, no leadership, no vision," he said.

Both candidates have also said they want the department to have a larger presence in Wake County going forward.

  • Harrison plans to do that by putting more deputies in neighborhoods and making the department more "open to the public," by encouraging them to call him or swing by his office.
  • "We'll continue to work hard, especially with communities that feel unsafe," Harrison said. "The problem is most people don't have a clue what law enforcement does. Every day that we go out, we're subject to being shot."

Rowe's plan is similar and centered on deputies building relationships with residents by becoming coaches and mentors to kids and attending after school care and recreation programs.

  • "If you get to know somebody, then that's how you tear down the walls of division," Rowe said.

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