A challenger take on first term Surry sheriff

Published 7:01 pm Tuesday, October 1, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

“Collaboration” and “community” are central themes in R.M. “Rocky” Barbee’s run for Surry County Sheriff against incumbent Carlos Turner. 

Turner, on the other hand, said that those ideals are already mainstays at the sheriff’s office and have been focuses of his first term, which is coming to a close as reelection approaches Nov. 5. 


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For counties with small populations like Surry County — which has fewer people relative to bordering counties Isle of Wight, Southampton, Sussex and Prince George — Barbee in an interview on Sept. 26 said that increased collaboration with other localities’ law enforcement and state entities would improve operations at the Sheriff’s Office. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

For example, Barbee said that speed measuring signs would be beneficial to both Surry and Sussex counties, and that the localities should explore going after them on a combined grant. 

Barbee said that he’d been involved in various aspects of Surry emergency services for more than 30 years, spending 12 years as a volunteer radiological officer, administering evacuation and hostile action drills involving the Surry nuclear powerplant.

On collaboration with other law enforcement bodies, Turner said in an interview on Sept. 27 that, “We have changed culture here at the Sheriff’s Office to where other agencies want to work with us.” 

Turner said the Sheriff’s Office has collaborated with neighboring sheriff’s offices’ to utilize their equipment for the betterment of Surry County — conducting women’s self-defense classes with Suffolk, and fighting drug crime with Southampton County and the Virginia State Police. 

Turner added that he hasn’t collaborated with other entities in terms of grants, but was open to the idea. 


Barbee said that his run for the Surry sheriff’s seat was motivated in part by the high turnover rate at the Surry County Sheriff’s Office. 

“It’s not healthy for the health and safety for the citizens of Surry,” Barbee said, adding that such a turnover rate was concerning and that it takes time for non-Surry County residents who come to the county to work at the Sheriff’s Office to develop community relations.

Barbee was a deputy with the Surry County Sheriff’s Office for more than seven years prior to Turner becoming sheriff, after which — according to Turner — Barbee wasn’t reappointed and joined the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office where he now works. 

Responding to criticism, Turner said that four or five deputies weren’t reappointed when he came into the seat because they couldn’t maintain the standards that he’d set, and that a number of other hires also hadn’t. 

After his election, Turner said that the office developed a 500-page policy manual that helped to streamline different protocols at the agency, put into place in early 2016.  

Turner added that several past deputies weren’t reappointed because of personnel matters that he didn’t want to discuss, but did say that one former deputy had been found guilty of bribery from a drug dealer, and that other corruption cases had been found, leading to terminations. 

Community Relations 

“Law enforcement doesn’t have a crystal ball … you have to have community involvement,” said Barbee, adding that increase community relations creates more spread of vital information by word-of-mouth. 

While Barbee praised Turner’s “Trunk-Or-Treat” Halloween event, rolled out last year, and his involvement in area churches, Barbee said that he would go beyond that in terms of community involvement. 

Turner said the agency has a program where deputies go around and check church buildings and businesses at night to make sure they’re locked. 

Barbee discussed a family assessments team in place at the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office, and the team works with Sussex Social Services to identify individuals that may be lacking resources in the case that a natural disaster or other catastrophe strikes — and prepares for that event ahead of time. 

Turner said that while the Sheriff’s Office may not have a named team that works with Surry Social Services, the offices work closely together and his agency has information on vulnerable residents in the county. 


On crime in Surry County, Barbee said that personal property theft was a growing concern, and that most of it was occurring between the hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“The deputies need to be moving through the county during the day,” said Barbee, adding that if deputies increase community relations with individuals and become more familiar with different areas, they would notice when things were out of place and be able to get ahead of different criminal acts before it’s too late. 

On patrol duties, Turner said that he usually has two deputies out in the county at any given time, and that since there’s 279 square miles of county, deputies can’t be everywhere all the time.  

“We don’t have the luxury of having five or six deputies out on the roadway,” said Turner, adding that he’s set up consistent 24-hour patrol coverage since coming into the role.

On drug crime, Turner said that deputies’ increased presence in the community has reduced it, but that it would be impossible to eliminate it entirely. He added that he’s put in a full-time investigator and started a Drug Takeback Day where residents can dispose of unused pills without the fear that they will get into the wrong hands.

Increased education and outreach to the community pertaining drug-related crime would improve that issue, which was prevalent during his time with the office, said Barbee. 


On schools, Barbee called Surry’s school system the greatest asset to the community and stating that if elected, he’d like to have annual safety assessments done on the schools. 

Not wanting to show his hand, Barbee said “we’ve done great things here,” pertaining security updates to Sussex schools. 

In response, Turner said that a safety assessment is done at the schools every year as required.  {/mprestriction}