LUMBERTON — Lennis Watts, a former N.C. Highway Patrol trooper and former Robeson County commissioner, will try for a second time to unseat incumbent Sheriff Ken Sealey in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. The two also faced off in a primary four year ago with Sealey winning by garnering just more than 54 percent of the vote.
The winner of the primary will face Republican Randy Hammonds in November. Hammonds has no challenger for his party’s nomination for sheriff.
Information for this story was not obtained through interviews with the candidates, but rather through answers to a questionnaire submitted to the candidates by the newspaper. Candidate answers to the questions can be found at robesonian.com.
Sealey, who joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1974 and became sheriff in 2005, says that he is the most qualified to hold the county’s top law enforcement position because he has served in various positions within the department. He said his qualifications include his values, commitment, responsibility and trust, accountability and decision-making ability.
Sealey said that the size and large population of the county is the biggest challenge facing his department. He said he would “like to see an increase in the number of officers” in his department.
“The biggest challenge is patrolling the county as Robeson County is the largest county in the state of North Carolina and there are times when we receive a large call volume,” he said.
Sealey said he believes construction of a new jail is needed in Robeson County.
“I do support building a new detention center because of the existing facility’s capacity center and for the safety of our detention officers,” he said. “…The availability of more cells would allow for inmates to be housed within the county with no outside cost associated with it.”
Sealey said that his department could use more funding from the county commissioners.
“Yes, we need more funding as I believe every agency needs more funding,” he said. “But that depends upon the monies available to the Robeson County Board of Commissioners.”
Watts said that there needs to be more strategic and aggressive law enforcement by the Sheriff’s Office to deal with enforcement of crime that occurs in Robeson County.
“We have many problems, concerns and issues that plague our county with respect to violent crimes, drug abuse and breaking and enterings, all of which require a more strategic and aggressive enforcement approach,” he said.
Watts, who has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience, said that under his leadership the Sheriff’s Office will catch up to the times.
“I will bring our Sheriff’s Office into the 21st century and allow our officers to be hired based on a fair and equitable policy,” he said.
Watts does not think that a new jail needs to be constructed at this time.
“No, I think we could add on to our current facility in a much more cost-effective manner and use any additional monies for new schools,” he said.
Watts said that he believes the Sheriff’s Office receives enough funding from the county commissioners to adequately meet its needs if the funds are managed wisely.
“Unfortunately, for the citizens of Robeson County, he (Sealey) chooses to spend the money unwisely and unnecessarily,” he said.
Hammonds said that good leadership is needed if the county is to have an efficient Sheriff’s Office.
“My vision involves prioritizing job duties, setting performance standards, exploring new leadership concepts, casting a new organizational direction, creating aggressive strategies, and empowering employees to meet the challenges of the future,” he said.
Hammonds, a retired officer with the N.C. Highway Patrol, isn’t sure if construction of a new county jail is the best solution for handling issues related to overcrowding at the present jail.
“I am not completely satisfied the construction of a new jail is the ‘fix ail’ solution for the population issue,” he said. “An initial step to keep the county jail population at a more manageable level is to evaluate all processes of the Sheriff’s Office that may affect the extended stay of an inmate.”
According to Hammonds, the biggest challenge for the Sheriff’s Office is to ensure public safety.
“Public safety must be the main focus,” he said. “Well-trained, educated and well-equipped deputies are the first line of defense to fighting crime, keeping the peace and keeping our citizens safe.”
Like Watts, Hammonds believes the Sheriff’s Office is receiving enough money from the county commissioners to do an effective job if the money is managed effectively.
“I am more concerned with how the current funding is being utilized and determining if every dollar is spent for the greater good of public safety,” he said. “My concentration will not be upon what I don’t have, but upon that which I do have at my disposal.”