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Webster answers sheriff's questionnaire

By Richard Webster
Posted Friday, March 31, 2006

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Pittsboro, NC - Candidate for Chatham County Sheriff, incumbent Richard Webster answers the Chatham Journal questionnaire. Three candidates are running for the office. The election primary will take place on Tuesday, May 2nd.

Candidate name: Richard Webster

Campaign web site: N/A

Age: 46

Education: Graduate of Northwood High School in Pittsboro and received a degree in Business Administration in 1981

Marital Status: Married

Spouse: Teri

Children: Three children. Audrie, Austin and Andrew

Community activities: Member of the Siler City Rotary, the Bynum Ruritan Club and numerous other community organizations. I am a member of the Pittsboro Methodist Church in Pittsboro.

Sheriff Questionnaire

1. What are your qualifications and what experience do you have in law enforcement?

I, Richard Webster am a lifelong resident of Chatham County. I have been married to my wife Teri for 20 years and together; we have 3 children, Audrie, Austin and Andrew. I am a graduate of Northwood High School in Pittsboro and received a degree in Business Administration in 1981. I began my public service career as a driver’s license examiner in 1984 and have been a sworn law enforcement officer for the last 16 years. I have been Sheriff of Chatham County since December of 2002. I am a graduate of the National Sheriff’s Institute and have received my Advanced Education Certificate from 2 North Carolina Training and Standard Commissions. I am a member of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association and hold several positions, including the Recommendations and Resolutions Committee. I am also a member of the Siler City Rotary, the Bynum Ruritan Club and numerous other community organizations. I am a member of the Pittsboro Methodist Church in Pittsboro.

I am seeking re-election for Chatham County Sheriff, as I believe in strong, professional law enforcement. I believe in the people of Chatham County and aspire to continue my plans and goals set forth in 2002. As a new deputy sheriff in 1990 and continuing in that position for the next 12 years, I saw a great need in the department for an administration that operated with integrity and professionalism. When the people of Chatham County elected me as their Sheriff in 2002, they trusted me to carry out my plans as I presented them and they believed in my goals. I have not finished yet. The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office has come a long way from its status in 2002 and we have many more great plans for the future.

2. What are your three priorities as Sheriff?

There are 5 issues that I consider priorities: community relations, crime detection and prevention, drug enforcement and education, professionalism of staff, and high visibility of officers.

3. What do you consider the three most pressing public safety issues in the county? As Sheriff, how would you deal with these issues?

A. My community relations philosophy is different than the previous administrations. I decided to dedicate a full time officer for community relations and developed a way for many deputies to be involved in community organizations and events. Having officers come to local communities and participate in events, allows the public to see them as a community partner instead of an adversary. Together, the officers and community members can address important issues such as property crime, drug prevention, gang education, etc. As of this release, the Sheriff’s Office employees have participated in nearly 700 community events since 2002. The public is an indispensable source of information for law enforcement officers. If we cannot find ways to tap into that resource we will fail to take full advantage of the information we need to perform the ever-changing duties of law enforcement. Creating and maintaining a bond with the public is just as crucial as all other components of law enforcement. I truly believe the current community relations philosophy of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office has had and will continue to have a dramatic impact on Chatham County.

B. I stated 4 years ago that if deputies were more involved with our communities the crime rate would drop. Since 2002, crime has decreased by 28 percent, with a steady decrease each of those 4 years. I told the citizens that the investigation of property crimes needed a more aggressive approach. More could be done to help our criminal investigators in their duties. I expanded the division and created a property crime unit. The results of this reorganization were 346 fewer property crimes than 3 years ago, the lowest occurrence in over 10 years. Property crime clearance rates have nearly doubled and investigators have recovered 30 percent more stolen property since 2002. Crime prevention classes are conducted by my officers all over the county. This educational campaign has provided information to hundreds of county citizens on protecting personal property, their families and themselves.

C. With a more proactive approach to narcotics enforcement, I declared 4 years ago that drug arrests would triple. I expanded the narcotics division, purchased another drug dog and placed very assertive officers in the unit. The direct result was 128 drug and alcohol arrests in 2003, compared to 39 the year before. The number of drug and alcohol arrests has continued to increase every year. Drug awareness and education are also vital when tackling this ever-growing problem. My Narcotics Division Commander has developed a very comprehensive and compelling drug awareness class. This program coaches the listeners in what to look for in their communities and families as indicators to potential drug use. The ultimate goal of this program, the Narcotics Unit and myself is to address the drug and alcohol problems before they become a law enforcement issue.

D. Bringing back respect to the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office was of high importance in my 2002 campaign. To accomplish this, I had to hire the best and most-qualified officers in order to generate high employee morale and pride in the office. I believe attitude is the most important thing when hiring a new employee. People have training and skills for a job but attitudes and work ethic are a part of one’s character. It is those intangible qualities not stated in a resume that I look for in a new employee. Many things have changed for the Chatham County officers; their uniforms, their cars, their gear, the amount of required training, and the way they are expected to conduct themselves in public and with the public. As we are all aware, Chatham County is growing extremely fast. Although calls for service have increased by more than 4000 in the last three years, the officers have proudly and professionally performed their duties with a positive attitude.

E. Officer visibility is also key in crime reduction. The more deputies working throughout the county, the more deputies are seen by everyone, including the criminals. However, in addition to increasing the number of road deputies, I know more could be done to increase office visibility. Of all my topics of discussion with the citizens of the county, the most comments are on the topic of officer visibility. The citizens are especially concerned about the outer portions of the county. I took several of the unmarked Sheriff’s office vehicles and marked them with blue lights and decals. I split the county into 5 working zones and required at least one officer to stay in each zone. I instructed deputies to focus their patrol efforts in areas not covered by city police departments. This keeps response times lower with officers’ spread throughout the county. The result has been very noticeable as response times have improved by 6 minutes over the past 4 years.

4. What are your short and long-term plans for dealing with the increased public safety needs of a growing Chatham County population? How can you best meet the needs of all parts of the county?

Public safety needs have increased dramatically over the past several years. The demand of law enforcement services has stretched our resources to the limit and then some. As previously stated, there have been many internal efforts to provide sufficient resources of manpower and coverage throughout the county. I am aware that many of you are concerned about taxes and the financial status of county government. But to provide adequate public safety needs, expansions of technology, personnel and equipment will eventually have to take place no matter who the Sheriff is. County finances are always a sensitive topic. A simple breakdown of the Chatham County budget and how it relates to the Sheriff’s Office/Jail may be helpful. The annual county budget is approximately 63 million dollars. Forty (40) percent of the budget goes to the school system, 11 percent to social services and 8 percent to the Sheriff’s Office and Jail. The vast majority of the Sheriff’s Office budget goes to employee salaries. To tell the citizens of Chatham County that I would never increase the Sheriff’s Office/Jail budget would be unrealistic. The budget for all areas of Federal, State and Local government will increase as growth occurs and the need for services increases. The budget for the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office/Jail will always be fiscally rational and practical under my administration. As your Sheriff, I empathize with the financial concerns of the citizens. I will pursue all available opportunities as your Sheriff to keep budget increases as minimal as possible.

5. What two things would you like to see changed in the Chatham County Sheriff’s department over the next four years and why? What, if anything, would your election do to bring about these changes?

Law enforcement grants are an area that has proven promising in funding Sheriff’s Office/Jail needs that do not come out of the citizens’ pockets. It is my plan to continue to pursue this source of funding in an even more diligent manner. The county has recently hired a person to assist all county agencies in identifying appropriate grants and to work closely with them in securing that source of funding. We have received several hundred thousand dollars in grant money at the Sheriff’s Office in the past. Grant funds are a positive alternative to budget increases and expenditures that are beneficial to the Sheriff’s Office/Jail officers, staff and the citizens of the county.

6. Since all the candidates for Sheriff seem to emphasize reducing drug use, what standards of measure will you use? When the next election comes around, what will you offer as evidence that you have been successful? &
7. There are known areas of drug activity in our county. What will you do as Sheriff to clean those areas up?

As previously stated, narcotics enforcement and education always has been one of my top priorities. Many accomplishments have taken place over the past 4 years. The drug issues of today are different than in days past. Drugs like Methamphetamine, Ecstasy and Heroin are starting to find its way to Chatham County and to deal with these issues takes forward thinking. I established many initiatives including the Interstate Criminal Enforcement (ICE) Team that has been very successful in intercepting drugs coming into the county. Its success is so apparent that 3 other surrounding counties established there own ICE teams after seeing the success of ours. Additionally, I authorized a member of the North Carolina National Guard Drug Task Force to be stationed at the Sheriff’s Office to assist in surveillance and tactical Narcotics operations. The results are obvious to those in the field. Just in the past 2 years, nearly 3,000 marijuana plants have been seized, 2,900 ounces of processed marijuana recovered, 13 pounds of cocaine seized and nearly 500 grams of Methamphetamine located. People are not only being arrested, drugs are being taken off the street.

8. How do you expect to work with the Hispanic community?

The Hispanic community has called upon us several times to conduct programs to assist them in a variety of topics. The Sheriff’s Office provides several brochures to Spanish speaking people. We have employed Spanish-speaking officers at the Sheriff’s Office and have access to bilingual agencies at a moments notice if translators cannot be located. We wish to continue our efforts to assist all Hispanic people throughout the county and to provide them with all law enforcement services available.

9. Why should I, as a Chatham County resident vote for you?

I believe that I am the most qualified candidate for the office of Chatham County Sheriff because I have had 4 years of experience as Sheriff. I am familiar with the county and county government. As a deputy sheriff with the department, I saw what the office needed from a deputies’ point of view. A deputy has many different responsibilities than any other law enforcement officer. As a deputy, I became familiar with the different divisions within the Office and their responsibilities. I was a shift sergeant during the majority of my law enforcement career. I as Sheriff am responsible for the actions of all my officers. I set forth by example to have my officers and staff conduct themselves with dignity and respect. As Sheriff, leading and managing people is crucial to the success of the agency. I believe that my experience as a road deputy and a shift sergeant in this organization that I currently lead gives me the unique and unmatched ability to continue to lead the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office for many years to come.

I believe all these improvements are indicative to the high performance of the Sheriff’s Office and a direct result of the change in philosophy of Chatham County law enforcement. In my contact with people all over this county, the people are generally very satisfied with the high level the Sheriff’s Office has achieved in the past few years. I hope you have seen the improvements for yourselves and I would appreciate your support in my quest to continue being your Sheriff on May 2nd in the Democratic Primary.

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