By Leah Schmalz

With Chipp Bailey stepping down as Mecklenburg County sheriff, four contenders have registered to take his place. Irwin Carmichael and Antoine M. Ensley seek a spot on the Democratic ticket, while Chris Hailey and Louis Rango Jr. are up against each other for the Republican spot.

Irwin Carmichael has worked as a reserve captain with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office for 28 years. “I just want to see the stability of the office to continue,” he said. Carmichael’s two main points of focus are inmates and youthful offenders. Carmichael said the daily count of inmates just dropped below 1,800, down from nearly 3,000 several years ago. “We have been able to cut the population down because of the programs we have inside our facilities,” he said. “We are going to turn 95% back out into community. We want to return them as productive members.” He said the office has training programs in place in areas such as culinary, carpentry, and horticulture so that released inmates have employment and are less likely to reoffend. 

Carmichael also wants to lower the statistic of youthful offenders. “It’s not the intent of a child to grow up to be bad. They just have the opportunities sometimes where they can make bad choices,” he said. “We want to teach these kids to make the right choice.” He proposes beginning with the faith community in order to reach children at an early age.

Antoine Ensley faces Carmichael for the Democratic spot. Ensley currently serves on the Mecklenburg County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and has experience in public safety as the Chief of Police in Fletcher and the Superintendent of Juvenile Justice for the Department of Human Resources in Norfolk, Virginia. Ensley is running a second time after his first campaign in 2010. “I realize now four year later that the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office still has not moved the organization to a productive place,” he said. “Too much tradition over the last 23 years has left the organization extremely stagnant…and not engaging innovation that is good for better social outcomes.”

Ensley also has his eye on youth programs as a way to deter criminal activity. “I plan to leverage private, non-profit and faith-based youth programs throughout the county and connect those community resources to measurable strategies to improve outcomes for at risk children,” he said. His goal is to “reduce over reliance on detention for youthful offenders that can benefit from an alternative to detention programs at a savings to the county.” By focusing on programs to redirect youth instead of placing them in detention centers, Ensley says this will free up money for other priorities, such as education.

Hailey has 28 years of experience in law enforcement and currently works as the Director of Public Safety at Central Piedmont Community College. He sees a need for a decentralized system that includes one detention center in the southern part of the city, such as Matthews or Pineville, and one in the northern part of the city, possibly the Gatling Juvenile Detention Center in Huntersville. Each of these substations would use a “telemagistrate”- a video connection to the magistrate downtown to cut down on transportation times.

“If a Mint Hill officer had to arrest someone, you only have so many who are working at a time. They have to take that person way downtown to process, which is going to take two to three hours,” he said. “Now your neighborhood is even more vulnerable. But if you have a substation even in Matthews, they don’t have to travel as far. That’s less money you have to pay on vehicle maintenance and gas. And also it keeps your officers within your neighborhoods and keeps you safer as a whole.”

Hailey also proposes programs to target at-risk youth and committees to review inmate programs regularly and make any necessary improvements. “I don’t want to be the sheriff that calls all the shots,” he said. “I want to be the sheriff that uses community-based input to make our communities safe.” He would like to see a volunteer program among law enforcement officials that includes having lunch or reading with kids in the schools. He says not only would it impact the children in a positive way by providing a mentor, it would also deter criminals from entering schools.

The Mint Hill Times was unable to reach Rango for comment.

Other races

On the Democratic ticket for the Board of Commissioners At-Large are Pat Cotham, Trevor M. Fuller, Elaine Powell, Kim Michele Ratliff, and Ella B. Scarborough. Republican candidates are Scott Carlisle and Emily Zuyus.

Marthe Efird and Paulina Havelka are running as Republicans for Clerk of Superior Court.