Graham, Wooten to square off for Pasquotank sheriff

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Tommy Wooten


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The two experienced law enforcement officers seeking to be the next sheriff of Pasquotank County have ideas for improving the relationship the sheriff’s office has with the community.

The Democratic candidate, Eddie Graham, is a sergeant with the Elizabeth City Police Department. He served with the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office from 2000-05 and has been an Elizabeth City officer since 2005.

The Republican candidate, Tommy S. Wooten II, has served in the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office for 13 years and currently is a sergeant in charge of the Civil Division.

Graham and Wooten are vying for a position that Sheriff Randy Cartwright has held for 24 years. Given Cartwright’s lengthy tenure the office has been run in essentially the same way for more than two decades.

The candidates, who won their party primaries in May, have some ideas about what they would do differently if elected sheriff.

Graham said he would bring “new leadership and a new direction” to the office, adding “the main thing I would emphasize more is building a relationship with the community.”

Wooten said the main change he would implement is “making the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office more community-oriented by volunteer programs and civic units.” His idea for the civic unit is to have deputies volunteer to participate for various civic events in the community.

He also favors a citizen volunteer program for the sheriff’s office similar to the city police department’s VIP program.

Both candidates support adding more school resource officers as funding allows to improve school safety.

Beyond that, Graham said, “I would continue to get the school resource officers up-to-date training and also train with the school personnel and the area law enforcement agencies — more coordinated training.”

Graham said he would also work to build a relationship with students that would encourage them to report information they have to officers.

Wooten said he would do a review of all school safety measures already in place.

“The first thing that we need to do is to ensure that our public school system is using the resources efficiently that they have now,” Wooten said. Cameras should be in working order and emergency plans should work, he said.

Another idea is for the sheriff’s office to have access to video camera footage for all schools, Wooten said. “I would work to make that happen,” he said.

Wooten said he would like to see a closer working relationship between the sheriff’s office and the city police.

“I think that we should work together in every aspect of law enforcement in Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County,” Wooten said. “I think that that’s going to happen. I know it’s going to happen for me. It has to start with your leadership of both agencies.”

Wooten said he would implement a joint city-county junior law enforcement program and encourage deputies to be involved in the Police Athletic League.

Graham also believes the Elizabeth City Police Department and Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office should have a closer working relationship.

“I would have a mutual aid agreement where the city police officers would be able to wok in the county jurisdiction,” Graham said. “I believe in the departments doing more training together and being a close law enforcement family.”

The top crime problem in the county is the drug epidemic, according to Graham. He said many other crimes occur because of drugs.

“I would work harder, and work closely with the city, to combat drug dealers,” Graham said. “Most drug dealers in the city are working in the county.”

Graham said he would also make drug education a priority.

The way to address the opioid crisis is through better training for officers and education for the public, “starting with the young people,” Graham said. He also would like to start a program in the schools to educate students about the dangers of drugs.

Wooten said he believes the biggest crime problem in the county is breaking and entering and larcenies. He believes “the best way to combat that problem is standing on the forefront of this opioid and heroin abuse problem.”

Wooten said he would deploy two canine units as another tool to combat the drug problem and would send deputies to receive advanced training in drug interdiction and drug identification.

“I would like to engage with the community on a regular basis about the problem, keep the public engaged and come up with a response together,” Wooten said.

Neither candidate plans to let employees go at the beginning of their administration if they’re elected.

“My position is to arrive at the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office and have a working relationship with everybody that is there,” Graham said. “If someone decides that they can’t be on the same team, then we will deal with that at that time.”

Graham said he would be glad to work with any current officers who accept his leadership and do what he asks them to do.

Wooten takes a similar position.

“As it stands right now, Tommy Wooten will not be getting rid of anybody,” Wooten said. He said if an employee doesn’t follow his vision, he will meet with them and work out a solution.

An employee would only be asked to resign as the result of a disciplinary process, Wooten said.

“I will never ask a deputy in that sheriff’s office to do anything that I wouldn’t go out and do myself,” he said.

Graham said the main strengths he would bring as a leader to the sheriff's office include experience, knowledge, and a good relationship with the public.

“I have been in several positions in the police department and sheriff’s office,” he said.

Graham said he also has a good network of contacts with sheriffs and chiefs of police across the state.

Wooten said the main strength he would bring as sheriff is his knowledge of the office after 13 years of service. He said he has worked in all areas of the sheriff’s office.

Wooten said that in the area of immigration enforcement “I would follow what guidelines are set forth by the federal government and at the state level.” He added immigration is not a major problem for Pasquotank County at this time.

Graham said he would assist with immigration enforcement if assistance was requested by federal authorities.

“I think we should help any agency that requests our assistance as far as crime,” Graham said. “But I think we should let the federal government handle what they need to handle and we handle our local crimes. But we should help the federal government any way we can.”