I am writing this letter in an effort to clarify some areas in Mr. Zamplas’ article of “McDonald touts in county drug enforcement…”, published in the April 10th issue of The Tribune.
Regarding the paragraph on Drug Enforcement, SWAT and hiring practices; the article seemed confusing. I do have 6 deputies assigned full time to Drug Enforcement. They are part of a task force model that includes two officers from Hendersonville Police Department and others from the NCSBI, DEA, and others. This partnership works as a force multiplier for Henderson County in that it allows us to conduct more effective and in depth investigations. It increases our investigative reach by adding more human resources, prosecutorial options, manpower and technical resources.
The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office’ unique relationship with Hendersonville Police Department, also allows both agencies to field a joint SWAT capability. The team includes slots for 12 deputies and 4 police officers. SWAT is used for operations that are deemed “high risk” and require manpower, equipment, or specialty training not readily available to a Patrol Squad. They may be activated to deal with armed barricaded suspects, high risk warrant service, and countless other crisis incidents. Raiding “drug dens”’ was not my description of their mission profile.
Regarding the statement that NC has recently passed a law that allows driving privileges for illegal immigrants; that is not the case. I never indicated that it was so. What I did say was that there was a bill introduced in the legislature last year that would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain a driving privilege document. I also said, and I stand by my statement, that my support of that legislation was controversial, akin to stepping into a hornets nest. There were many positive aspects of that legislation that would have helped cut down on fraudulent documentation, ensured that these drivers possess insurance, and that they had passed a driving test. The emotional “hue and cry” raised against the bill however, caused many who secretly agreed that it had merit, to concede to those who refused to deal with this very real problem. I have never condoned anyone driving on our roadways that cannot do so legally. It is a shame however, when elected officials shy away from doing what they know to be right in order to avoid the unpleasantness of necessary debate.
I am not for blanket amnesty. I did say that it is the job of the federal government to protect our borders. They have failed miserably and under the current administration, they seem to have no intention of doing their job. The abdication of this paramount constitutional responsibility of the federal government while they meddle in other issues, leaves each state and county to figure out how best to deal with the results of federal ineptness.
Under a county budget crisis several years ago, the Sheriff’s Office had to absorb a 7.5% budget reduction. This ultimately led to a loss of some staff and an increased work load on many personnel. Part of that result was a loss of SROs in the elementary schools. Since taking office, I have utilized our “Adopt a School” initiative to encourage unannounced non routine visits to all of our elementary schools by assigned uniformed officers. Their task is to visit in the schools, as often as possible. We have had very good feedback from the Superintendent of the county schools as well as many teachers and parents. We will continue to monitor and develop feedback regarding this program and make improvements were feasible. It is important to note that the responsibility for school safety, all security systems and equipment and training fall to the Superintendent of the County Schools and his budget. There has been a laudable effort by that office this past year, to upgrade security features and protocols to limit unauthorized access and better control their spaces.
The Sheriff in North Carolina has “at will” authority regarding the hiring and firing of personnel. This is as it should be and republicans have been joined by conservative democrat legislators to maintain that standard in this oldest of constitutional offices. That is largely due to the fact that no deputy has any arrest authority apart from being sworn in by the Sheriff. The Sheriff is the only elected official who is subject to “vicarious liability.” He may be sued in person, for any act of any deputy, as though he had carried out the act himself. For that reason alone, it is imperative that Sheriffs be able to surround themselves with those who are loyal to their vision and commitment to the community. No successful organization can tolerate those who would undermine their own leaders. Deputies are hired by the Sheriff. Sheriffs are hired by the voters.
Sheriff Charles S. McDonald