In the home stretch

Published 6:03 pm Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sheriff candidates in forum as election nears

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Both Isle of Wight Sheriff candidates want to put school resource officers in all nine county schools. 

At the same time, Sheriff James Clarke and Lt. James Pope differ on the reach of responsibility when it comes to ensuring school safety.

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The viewpoints were expressed July 11 at the second of two sheriff’s forums in the run-up to the special election for the post on Tuesday, July 24. The forum was held at The Smithfield Center and more than 100 people packed the main ballroom to listen to the candidates and submit questions. The forum was sponsored by the Isle of Wight County Citizens Association, the Carrollton Civic League and the Isle of Wight Chapter of the NAACP. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

In response to a question about who is responsible for school safety — the Sheriff’s Office or the School Board and Superintendent, Pope said that it was the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office — on the same level as ensuring public safety throughout the rest of the county. 

The School Board and Superintendent are responsible for educating the students, said Pope.

Clarke acknowledged that he had previously stated that school safety was the School Board and superintendent’s responsibility and that the current superintendent did not want SROs in every school.

The superintendent instead opted for infrastructure improvements and received funds to do that, said Clarke. 

However, if there is an SRO in the school, then the responsibility falls on the Sheriff’s Office, said Clarke.

Both candidates agreed that arming teachers is not a good idea. 

Another question asked about in-laws. In Pope’s case, it was about his in-laws who include a judge and a prosecutor that both work in Isle of Wight County, as well as his wife, who is a defense attorney. 

For Clarke there was a reference to an in-law, cocaine distribution and assault. 

Pope said the family has consulted with state officials and there is no conflict.

“You’re not electing my family, you’re electing me,” said Pope, adding that having family members at the courthouse will not affect his integrity. 

That question was also posed by The Smithfield Times to Dr. Quentin Kidd, a professor of political science and director of the Wason Center for Public Policy with Christopher Newport University. 

Kidd affirmed that there is not legal conflict of interest and family connections are not uncommon in a small community, and while it can certainly lead to illegal or unethical behavior, it doesn’t necessarily do so. 

“At its heart, Virginia law assumes honorable actions and behavior on the part of public officials, and so we don’t have as many bright lines as some other states do,” said Kidd. 

Clarke joked that he is not related to Stan Clark, who is Pope’s father in-law, former Board of Supervisors member and now a juvenile and domestic relations court judge. 

He said his last name has an “e” at the end.

Clarke said that beginning with his tenure with the Smithfield Police Department in the late 1990s, he has not been involved in any cases that included relatives. 

“In-laws are adults who make decisions,” he said. 

The candidates were asked about their views on racial profiling. 

Clarke and Pope referenced a yearly review the agency conducts on biased-based policing and both stated they were against the practice. 

Clarke said that if anyone feels they have been profiled or intimidated by an Isle of Wight County deputy, they should call him immediately.

“We do the job daily without seeing color,” he said. 

As for programs each candidate would implement if elected, Pope wants to put SROs in all schools and ensure fiscal conservatism. He talked about tweaking the agency’s grievance procedure to add a peer panel to the process. He would also work to hire more deputies from within the community and add an auxiliary deputy program using retired officers. 

Clarke wants to start a youth mentoring program, a citizen academy to increase public involvement and a pastor’s coalition to tap into concerns expressed by local church congregations. Clarke also wants to put SROs in all the schools. 

Prior to former Sheriff Mark Marshall’s election in 2012, there were SROs in all of Isle of Wight County’s nine public schools. Marshall removed full-time SROs in the elementary and middle schools and put them on the road because he thought that was a better use of the county’s assets. 

Earlier this year, Clarke asked for, and received, funding for one full-time SRO at Georgie D. Tyler Middle School, upping the roster to two full-time SROs at Smithfield and Windsor high schools and a full-time SRO at Smithfield Middle School. 

Deputies also regularly do school checks at all Isle of Wight County schools. 

The candidates were asked what would happen to the other if not elected sheriff. 

Both said they would either make a congratulatory call or receive one on election night. 

The next day, the newly elected sheriff would discuss the other’s role and whether or not he chooses to accept it, said Clarke.

Pope said that if he wins, he plans to keep Clarke on the job.

“Thank you,” said Clarke, which elicited laughter.  

In closing, Pope said he’s been campaigning to be sheriff since first hired in Isle of Wight in 2004. Pope assured the audience that being elected sheriff is not a stepping stone to a bigger agency and that he and his family are invested in the community.

“I’ve been boots on the ground in this county for 14 years,” said Pope.

Clarke said he is the right leader, the same person who has led Marines, officers and deputies during his military and law enforcement career. 

Clarke pointed out that he is a lifelong resident of Isle of Wight County and has the right training, leadership and experience for the job.

Marshall retired earlier this year to brew beer with his family on the Eastern Shore. Since he left the job a year and a half early, Clarke was appointed sheriff until a special election could be held. Clarke, who was chief deputy at the time, was appointed to sheriff, as outlined in the code of Virginia. 

The winner of the July 24 election will serve the remainder of Marshall’s term and an election for a full four-year term as sheriff will be held at the November 2019 general election. 


Election set for Tuesday

A special election for Isle of Wight County Sheriff will be held Tuesday, July 24. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Virginia law requires all voters to provide an acceptable form of photo identification when voting in person at their polling place. Photo I.D. can include a driver’s license, passport and other government-issued identification.  

Law enforcement credentials

James Clarke

•Served 24 years in the United States Marine Corps Reserves and was deployed in 2003 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During his military career, Clarke earned numerous medals and awards, including the Navy Commendation Medal. 

•Began his law enforcement career with the Smithfield Police Department in 1998, rising to the position of patrol commander

•Named Top Cop in 2009

•Came to the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office in 2012 and rose to the level of chief deputy, overseeing all operations and direct supervision of division commanders

•Attended the FBI National Academy, which offered advanced investigative, management and fitness training

•Attended the Professional Executive Leadership School through Virginia Tech

•Earned an associate degree in police science and an associate degree in arts and science in general studies from Paul D. Camp Community College

•Is in the process of obtaining a bachelor of science in criminal justice from St. Leo University

•Earned a certificate of achievement from the University of Virginia for criminal justice

•Is a Virginia law enforcement accreditation assessor


James Pope

•Was a member of the Suffolk Police Departments explorer unit, a cadet-style program

•Managed the Smithfield Subway store before joining the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s office in 2004

•Rose to the level of lieutenant with the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office

•Named Top Cop in 2014

•Holds a certification for basis law enforcement with the Department of Criminal Justice Services

•Earned a MADD award for DUI enforcement and a DMV highway safety officer leadership award

•Attended the FBI first line supervisor’s school

•Is pursuing a degree in criminal justice from Liberty University

•Serves in several additional leadership positions related to law enforcement, including the Crime Line and the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program

• Vice chairman of regional Crime Line.

• Vice chairman of Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program

•Certified general instructor, field training officer, radar operator, basic crime prevention and SWAT operator  {/mprestriction}