Sheriff hopefuls

Published 6:48 pm Tuesday, June 26, 2018

School safety, personnel, policies among questions

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor 

School safety, personnel, policy and interaction with the community topped the list of priorities and concerns between residents and the two men running for Isle of Wight County Sheriff during the first candidates’ forum to focus on the upcoming special election. 

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Isle of Wight County Sheriff James Clarke and Lt. James Pope, squared off Monday night before a standing room only crowd at the Windsor Ruritan Club, which cosponsored the forum with The Smithfield Times. At least 100 persons sat, stood and lined an entry hall during the forum. 

A second forum, sponsored by county civic organizations, will be held Wednesday, July 11 at 6:30 p.m. at The Smithfield Center.

Former Sheriff Mark Marshall left his post nearly two years prematurely to brew beer with his family on the Eastern Shore — sparking the need for a special election to fill the remainder of his term. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

As chief deputy and as prescribed by law, Clarke was appointed as sheriff until the special election, which is to be held July 24. 

There were numerous areas of agreement between Clarke and Pope, as both men currently work at the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office and have assisted in developing various policies and procedures under Marshall. 

Those include adding a fourth zone to handle the increased calls for service in the Carrollton area, as well as developing a policy to deal with accusations of deputy misconduct. 

Clarke and Pope agreed that the Carrollton area will likely be the biggest challenge to the department in the next two years. 

Clarke predicts the rapidly growing area will soon become its own town, and Pope points to plans for more apartments — which concentrate a lot of people in a small area — as contributing to the increasing number of calls for service. 

Attendees were invited to submit questions and one asked about coverage in rural areas. Clarke and Pope agreed that the needs of those areas must to be balanced with the demands of the more populated areas. 

Clarke also sees recruitment as a looming challenge, as law enforcement struggles with its overall image and the applicant pool shrinks in response. 

Pope believes hiring from within the community will help with recruitment and retention.

Pope said those who leave are typically quitting the profession altogether. 

Clarke said most law enforcement officers want to work in Isle of Wight.

“They wave their whole hand and not their finger,” he joked about potential hires, and said he would focus on recruitment. 

There were a few questions on why the unusual election day was selected and whether deputies would remain on the job after it was held. 

Clarke and Pope cited concerns with office stability in the wake of a leadership change, as well as the stress of an election as reasons for the Board of Supervisors selecting the July date rather than waiting for the regularly scheduled election in November. 

Both men said those that were employed with the Sheriff’s Office before the election would remain on the job afterwards — if expectations and qualities between the sheriff and the staff remain the same. 

Each candidate had different ideas on programs that could be initiated within the department. 

Clarke wants to start a citizen’s academy, a youth mentoring program, a chaplain program and establish focus groups to better engage the public in what the Sheriff’s Office does.

Pope wants to establish a youth explorer program and auxiliary deputy force using certified officers and tap into the high level of volunteerism that exists in Isle of Wight County.

“We can’t always go back and drain the budget,” said Pope about fulfilling personnel needs. 

Pope also mentioned the budget as a place where he would focus attention, if elected. 

Clarke and Pope each cited school safety as one of their top concerns. 

Pope wants to put school resource officers back in all of Isle of Wight County’s elementary schools. 

Prior to Marshall taking office, there were SROs in the elementary schools, but he pulled them out and put them on the road and in the office to address law enforcement concerns. 

Clarke said he asked for six SROs in the budget this year and received one, who will be on duty at Georgie D. Tyler Middle School. 

Currently, there are also SROs at Smithfield and Windsor high schools, as well as Smithfield Middle School. 

Clarke pointed out that the deputies visit every school every day and last year, made 641 checks on the schools.

Pope said the daily checks were good, but on the other hand, the law enforcement vehicle is a “billboard,” advertising when a deputy is, and is not, present. He prefers one on duty at all times to also assist with developing relationships with the students at the school. 

Another question addressed diversity in the Sheriff’s Office. 

Clarke said the diversity within the Sheriff’s Office should reflect the community it serves. Clarke said he has personally screened all the applicants since coming to the Sheriff’s Office under Marshall and diversity has increased.

Pope said diversity is important, but that hiring should also focus on cultivating candidates that are already living in the community. 

Both men described their leadership experience. 

Clarke pointed out how he rose in the ranks of the Marine Corps Reserves during his 24 years of service, as well as while he served in the Smithfield Police Department, as well as being a graduate of the FBI Academy. 

Pope pointed to his experience at managing the Smithfield Subway store and various leadership positions he’s held with the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office and in the area. 

Clarke has worked in law enforcement for 19 years. Pope was hired by former Sheriff C.W. “Charlie” Phelps in 2004 and has spent his career with the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office. 

Clarke said if the public was looking for the right man, at the right time, with the right maturity, the right mentality, the right leadership qualities and the right reasons — he was the man for the job.

Pope said he’s been there when the community has called for years and will continue to respond and be accessible. 

Pope said he’s been campaigning for the job of sheriff since he became a deputy 14 years ago.  {/mprestriction}