BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Candidates from both parties will face off in the Bladen County sheriff's primary election Tuesday.
Incumbent Sheriff Jim McVicker will face fellow Republican Billy Ward.
Hakeem Brown and Gary Edwards will face off for the Democratic seat.
Jim McVicker — Republican
McVicker has served as the Bladen County sheriff for the past three and a half years and has 45 years of law enforcement experience.
A Bladen County native, McVicker served as a Lumberton police officer from 1973-77 when he was accepted by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. He retired from the highway patrol in 2001 and taught various law enforcement training courses throughout the area.
During his tenure as Bladen County sheriff, McVicker said he is proud of how much equipment the sheriff's office has acquired.
"Our cars are better than they've ever been before," he said. "We had to explain to county commissioners why we needed more equipment. We had an incident take place in this county, a seven- or eight-hour standoff and a lot of shots were fired. We were able to get the vests and helmets.
"If I'm going to send my people in harm's way, I should be able to get equipment for them to protect themselves so they've got good equipment and I really do believe — well, I know — our people are working hard."
On the opioid crisis, McVicker said if re-elected, he will continue to fight the epidemic collaboratively, and by doing routine traffic stops which often lead to drug busts.
"I'd like to snap my fingers and do away with the problem tomorrow, but it's not that easy," McVicker said. "But I can tell you now that some people are working very hard and not just my people. It's the people we associate ourselves with that are working very hard and we do make a lot of drug arrests.
"One of the complaints we have is you shouldn't be stopping cars. Whoever says that doesn't understand how the program works. You have to stop cars. People need people to tell them what's going on and to turn toward us to help us get the people selling drugs so I make no apologies for that. I think we know what we're doing and what the way we've been doing it works and I don't foresee changing anything in that respect."
On school and community safety, he says he will continue providing school resource officers and implementing a 10-92 program, which requires deputies to drop in to schools or churches when driving by.
"In 2015, we had over 3,000 visits," McVicker said. "Throughout the day, you could have four different deputies walking into each class, including the SROs. What we've done in the past couple months is included our churches, our house of worship. I encourage my people Sunday morning to check out a church. Tell them where you are, have your phone on vibrate and go to church. If you can't stay about 15 minutes, you get a call, that's fine. But when people arrive at these churches and see the smart cars in the parking lot, hopefully that will save us from having a problem."
Billy Ward — Republican
Ward is a native of Bladen County and has an extensive background in law enforcement, beginning in 1971.
He is the captain of the Tabor City Police Department and has worked as a police officer in Wallace and Warsaw. He was also a trooper with North Carolina Highway Patrol.
Ward has multiple certifications and conducts a drug awareness program. He is also a pastor at Westside Baptist Church.
On the opioid crisis, Ward said he would take a proactive approach.
"I teach parents now how you raise drug-free children," Ward said. "How you recognize your son or daughter is on drugs or alcohol and it's something, you have to be persistent and consistent. There's no way under the sun you can hit it and come back later and I just want a safe environment for our children. I'm going to work with the board of education, the county commissioners. If there's any way we can make our schools safer, I'd rather be proactive than reactive."
On safety in the community, he says it is crucial to bring substations back.
Hakeem Brown — Democrat
At age 28, Brown has accomplished a lot in his law enforcement career.
He served as a Bladen County deputy and school resource officer from 2011-16, then became the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles License and Theft Inspector for Bladen and Columbus counties. He currently serves in New Hanover County.
Brown earned a master of justice administration degree from Methodist University in 2015 and is a West Point leadership graduate.
On the opioid crisis, Brown says the issue needs to be tackled by the community.
"It's an issue that's bigger than the sheriff's office alone," Brown said. "That's going to take everyone working together for one mission, including the citizens and other providers, medical providers, people in leadership positions, pastors, anyone that can make a difference for us coming together to fight for this opioid crisis. We can say one time that the sheriff's office can handle it alone and I say no because this is a community effort to better Bladen County.
"I know the importance of having a resource officer at schools. Not only for the safety but also for the relationship that we can build if we can put an SRO in every school. A relationship between a student and a deputy goes a long way because you know as well as I know that a first impression is a lasting impression."
Gary Edwards — Democrat
Edwards has prior experience as a Bladen County deputy. He did not show up for his scheduled interview with WECT.