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Forsyth sheriff’s race a study in contrasts

by Keith Barber

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Forsyth County Sheriff Bill Schatzman (left), a Republican, faces an election challenge from Democrat Jerry Herron. The official election day falls on Nov. 2, but early voting is already underway. Jerry Herron, the Democratic candidate for Forsyth County Sheriff, has a vision of community-based policing that he believes can simultaneously decrease the crime rate while helping more young people stay in school.

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“It costs more to incarcerate than to educate,” said Herron, a former major in the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. “What I would like to do is bring people to the table involved in programs that we know were successful — tutoring and mentoring programs — to discuss things we can do to help them get their education and make them productive in their community.”

During his 26-year career, Herron worked for four different sheriffs, including his Republican opponent, Sheriff William T. “Bill” Schatzman. If elected, Herron said he plans to build on the successes of his predecessors while learning from their mistakes. Herron has a number of criticisms of Schatzman, including the fact that his former boss doesn’t spend enough time in the community meeting with residents to address their concerns.

“The citizens of Forsyth County, they’re the ones who elect you,” Herron said. “You should seek out their concerns and see what’s going on in their community.”

Herron said each community within Forsyth County has unique issues and the sheriff’s office should learn those issues by working closely with local civic groups, businesses and churches.

Schatzman was first elected in 2002 and is seeking his third term in office. Schatzman declined a request for an interview, citing scheduling conflicts, after asking that the questions be submitted beforehand.

On his campaign website, Schatzman touts the sheriff office’s involvement in the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), in which law enforcement agencies notifies Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when any foreign-born person is arrested and booked into the county jail. Schatzman claims that in the past two years, 1,500 undocumented immigrants have been identified for federal officials.

Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputies patrol schools and community to “identify, arrest and charge known gang members, and to discourage those who might be considering joining gangs,” Schatzman states on his website. In the first quarter of this year, the sheriff’s office seized more than $2.2 million in drugs and made 50 felony arrests in conjunction with its crackdown on drugs and gangs, according to the website.

Herron criticized Schatzman for scrapping a drug interdiction team that previously patrolled US Highway 52 and Interstate 40. Herron said he would reinstate the drug interdiction program, which would discourage drug dealers from operating in Forsyth County. The forfeiture of assets program would also generate revenue for much-needed equipment and resources, Herron said.

Schatzman boasts that he has implemented several cost-cutting measures like reducing his staff and redeploying resources. Since taking office in 2003, Schatzman said the sheriff’s office has reduced serious crime by 30 percent. According to the NC Department of Justice website, Forsyth County experienced a 12 percent decrease in the crime rate from 2008 to 2009.

Schatzman, a native of Connecticut, previously served with the FBI and worked as a private security consultant before running for sheriff in 2002. Herron, a Winston- Salem native, said he believes he has the leadership skills to lead the sheriff’s office into the 21 st century.

“I’ve gone to school in this community, I’ve grown up in this community and the citizens have invested in me,” Herron said. “I’ve been a street officer. I know what a victim goes through. I’m a better candidate than the sheriff and I think my record shows that.”

If elected, Herron said he would make the domestic violence investigator position a part of the permanent staff of the sheriff’s office rather than a grant-funded position. In addition, Herron said he would ensure that the department would become more representative of the community it serves.

“Four out of 57 officers in the patrol division are African American, and there are only 10 Latinos in the entire administration,” Herron said.

The Democratic challenger criticized the incumbent for an inability to recruit minorities to the sheriff’s office.

Herron promises to work closely with local colleges and universities to recruit the best and most diverse group of candidates and contends he can assign officers to the school resource officer program that relate better with young people.

“It’s important to have officers in those schools that want to live in the county — people the students can relate to, that are educated in how to deal with young people,” Herron said. “[School resource officers] need to look at alternative remedies to the situations they’re dealing with. They need look at other resources before taking enforcement action.”

Herron said the criminal justice system is overburdened and the county jail is overcrowded. Considering that harsh reality, sheriff’s deputies must place even greater emphasis on the “serve” component of “Serve and protect.”

“I have a passion for public service,” Herron said. “I think I’m the best person for the job due to my knowledge and integrity.”

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