Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden has said the department will be more visible under his leadership. Indeed, that has been the case. Less than four months in to the job, McFadden has already made some big changes that have drawn praise, criticism, and the consternation of some lawmakers. One of those changes is expanding outside the traditional role of the sheriff’s office.
The department has long been focused on operating the jail, serving warrants and protecting the courthouse. WFAE's Lisa Worf spoke with McFadden and began by asking him what other roles he would like the Sheriff’s department to take on.
McFadden: Traffic enforcement, community engagement, programs in schools. We want to do everything just almost like CMPD except we will not be answering 911 calls.
Worf: What about investigations and other law enforcement that CMPD undertakes?
McFadden: I think that down the road a couple of years from now I would love to assist the surrounding townships with their investigations. When they have crimes going on in the neighborhoods, homicides in a neighborhood we could also assist them. My background is law enforcement and investigation and I think that we could definitely help our brothers and sisters around the county.
Worf: What do you see that assistance looking like?
McFadden: Well, say for instance Pineville had a homicide at the mall. We could go there and help interview witnesses, help do crowd control and help develop leads. I think that's what we should be doing.
Worf: And this would not be with CMPD? This it would be specifically towns?
McFadden: Well, if CMPD needs our help we are also here to help them. I think they've established themselves very well and they have of course great detectives but if they need our assistance we are available.
Worf: Have you heard from the towns that they need extra assistance?
McFadden: Well, they do. We had a meeting with the chiefs last week and we're having conversations about help. Some towns have very few officers and they just need our help. Maybe in traffic and I'm gonna extend the hand of friendship in helping with investigations even if we don't do anything but direct traffic or standby assist them to give them a break. So I think we start off small and we grow from there.
Worf: How does the sheriff's office have the staff and the money to do some of these extra things that you're hoping to do?
McFadden: Well, we don't have all the staff that we need. We do need more staff members and we do need more money. But we're going to work with what we have to make us more visible in the community.
Worf: Besides Cornelius so far, where are you looking at doing traffic operations and where have you been doing it?
McFadden: Little as people know we did the same traffic operation in Pineville this past weekend. In one hour with the joint task force of Pineville and my deputies, we wrote fifty-one tickets in one hour in Pineville. So we are out there. This thing with Cornelius just went in the wrong direction and the public is still taking it in the wrong direction. But we're going to solve that because we're going to have a meeting and we're going to remedy those small problems and we're going to continue to do these operations.
Worf: People are taking things in the wrong direction. What do you mean by that?
McFadden: Well, you know we did an operation. I think what scared people. They saw many cars and nobody had an answer for them. And I think that was mainly the problem. They saw cars that they don't normally see in their neighborhood and they were doing something that they didn't know about. And they became very curious and did not have answers. So then they took that and just ran with it.
Worf: And you're saying that the Cornelius Police Department did indeed know that was going on?
McFadden: My agency staff contacted Cornelius Police Department.
Worf: And we checked on that. The sheriff's department notified Cornelius police one hour 20 minutes ahead of the Sunday operation.
Worf: With Pineville and Cornelius - those areas were also some of the few areas where you did not win the election. Is that a coincidence that you started there?
McFadden: I didn't look at it in that way and I hope nobody else looks at it in that way.
Worf: As far as direction, you were asked to come to last week's Cornelius town council meeting about that traffic operation. You made it clear how you thought commissioners handled the situation. You told them this wasn't about genuine questions but rather privilege. Quote, "It's an African-American sheriff making differences in this city and county." How do you think you handled the situation there?
McFadden: I think I handled the situation very well. What most people don't know is that when the issue came to surface my chief deputy and some of my staff went to Cornelius, answered all of their questions several weeks before. So Cornelius told him they didn't have any more questions or anything else and they simply wanted to welcome me to Cornelius so they would invite me back to welcome me to Cornelius. When we got to the meeting the whole meeting was against Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office and trying to put Cornelius in a positive light far as law enforcement. So it went on and on and on about the road wasn't a state road but nobody talked about the law being broken of the traffic offenses nobody said anything that. Yes we broke the law. Yes we were driving 10, 11 miles over the speed limit. It was just why were we there? And so then after several minutes I felt that I need to address the word privilege.
Worf: And how is it working with Cornelius police now? Are they wanting your help?
McFadden: Well, we haven't had those conversations. I saw the chief a couple of days ago Monday when we have a chiefs meeting and sheriff meetings. We're cordial. I don't think there's gonna be a problem. I think the public is taking this in a wrong direction. I said what I said. They said what they said and we're going to move on.
Worf: Immigration and Customs Enforcement says they've stepped up enforcement actions because of the decision to get rid of 287(g). Something that Wake County sheriff also got rid of. And now there's a bill requiring sheriffs to fulfill ICE detainers that's making its way through the General Assembly. Do you think these would effectively undo your decision to get rid of 287(g)?
McFadden: I made a decision to get rid of 287(g) and that's what I'm sticking with.
Worf: What is your take on that legislation that's going through the General Assembly?
McFadden: Well again I don't participate in 287(g) and I wait to I get to that point where I have to face that.
Worf: Why not talk about the 287(g) program and the bill?
McFadden: Because it's not in my sandbox at this time. We got rid of it and it's out. I have to focus on community engagement. Focus on crime. Focus on safety and the things that directly affect my community.
Worf: Now turning to some of the changes you've made inside the jail. Have you seen a difference in allowing inmates to have in-person visits now?
McFadden: I see an absolutely almost a 360. I was here the week that we tested it during the Christmas holidays. I saw a young man saw his daughter for the first time. The atmosphere in the detention center - we don't say jail - has changed drastically. I have a comment from people weekly about what it has done to change their lives so I can successfully say that it has helped the atmosphere, attitude and morale at the detention center.
Worf: How do you see that in the day-to-day operations?
McFadden: The residents are more talkative. We talk to the more. We see them more. We have more conversation with the more. We know more about their problems so we're having interaction with them which is bringing back dignity and humanity.
Worf: Another thing you've done is in solitary confinement for 16 and 17-year-olds. You said you hoped it would lead to fewer confrontations between these youth and detention officers. Has that been the case?
McFadden: It has been the case. I can say that what I believe would have worked is working. And so we have less confrontation with the kids because we had more contact with them now. And for me, it's a win.
Worf: You held a career fair for inmates who will soon be released. How'd that go?
McFadden: Well, I think we have 35 people to participate and I think 17 of them received jobs. Actually, one young man received the job, he got out the next day and I was there to meet him and bought him a pair of shoes because he didn't have the shoes to wear with the suit. So I think it's in moving in the right direction and we were going to be progressive about it.