How one-party dominance of urban local governments hurts law enforcement

Published January 22, 2019

By Patrick Sebastian

by Patrick Sebastian, Political and communications consultant and NC SPIN panelist, January 22, 2019.

It wasn’t long ago when both Republicans and Democrats had a reasonable chance to hold elected office in Wake and Mecklenburg counties and when gubernatorial and presidential candidates could expect close contests there. Those times are gone, and the 2018 election erased any doubt that Republicans need not expect electoral success in Wake and Mecklenburg.

In Charlotte, which is one of the only cities where partisan affiliation is included on the ballot for municipal elections, Pat McCrory won in a landslide for mayor in 2007 and a few years before that Republicans held a majority on the city council. Fast-forward to 2017 and you’ll see wildly different results: The Democratic candidate for mayor won by over 18 points and her party swept all four at-large council seats, leaving just two district seats for Republicans. One of the Democratic council members, Lawana Mayfield, has embarrassed herself and her city countless times, including her apparent belief the attacks on 9/11 were a conspiracy.At the county level, going into the 2018 election, Republicans held three county commission seats; now the board has zero Republicans on it. About three hours away in Wake County there are zero Republicans on the county commission and zero on the Raleigh City Council.

No election exemplified the demise of Republican leadership in North Carolina’s urban areas more than the 2018 Wake County sheriff’s race that resulted in longtime Republican, and more importantly, effective, Sheriff Donnie Harrison being defeated by Democratic nominee Gerald Baker.

The fact that Wake County has been free of spikes in crime over the past 16 years is no accident. Sheriff Harrison ran a button-upped department and had the respect of his deputies and the citizenry alike. He launched the Citizens Well-Check Program, in which the sheriff’s office called participating senior citizens daily to make sure he or she was OK, went after violent criminals and drug dealers aggressively, and showed no tolerance for those who abused animals. The sheriff was respected by elected officials from both political parties at the local and state levels, including Republican Governor Pat McCrory and Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who appointed Harrison to lead the state’s school safety committee.

Sadly, in less than two months into the tenure of Sheriff Gerald Baker, the department has become politicized and Baker has rewarded outright bigotry. Baker’s first major act as sheriff was to end the county’s participation with the federal 287(g) program, which enabled trained deputies to conduct interviews and background checks on illegal immigrants sitting in the Wake County jail due to an arrest unrelated to their immigration status. This vital partnership with federal law enforcement gave the sheriff’s department the tools to identify illegal immigrants who provided fake names to deputies during arrest and, if necessary, hand them over to federal law enforcement. However, as of mid-December, Baker had already released 16 people into the community who federal agents had asked the county to hold and announced his plan to release the other 79 currently in custody at the Wake County jail. Baker refuses to even share the names and criminal records of the people he released from jail against the wishes of federal law enforcement. This lack of transparency is disturbing and will undoubtedly lead to more instances of crime throughout the neighborhoods of Wake County.

Sheriff Baker’s next act was to purge the department of officers who served during Harrison’s tenure. At least 40 public servants – all who have put their lives on the line to protect the community - were fired or demoted by Baker during the holidays. This move was not only spiteful, it removed experienced officers with institutional knowledge from the force. Baker could have been magnanimous after his victory and taken steps to unite the sheriff’s department, but instead chose to decrease morale among the ranks by commencing a firing spree. Is this the way to treat a group of people who are already facing attacks on a daily basis?

Just last week Baker brought shame onto himself and Wake County when he defended his firing of two whistleblowers who exposed then-lieutenant Teddy Patrick for making homophobic and racist remarks in 2017 during a sensitivity training session.When questioned by an investigator about the remarks, then-Lieutenant Patrick even stated that, “I said it, and I meant it.” Mr. Patrick’s behavior led to him being demoted by Sheriff Harrison. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rejected Patrick’s appeal of the demotion. Incredibly, if it wasn’t disgraceful enough that Sheriff Baker fired two whistleblowers for exposing bigotry, he promotedTeddy Patrick to the prestigious position of captain after taking office. But wait, there’s more:One of the fired whistleblowers was escorted to turn in his equipment by no other than now-Colonel Teddy Patrick.You can’t make this stuff up.

One major reason the urban areas of Raleigh and Charlotte have thrived over the past 25 years is they are seen as desirable places to live and raise a family. However, if local governments continue their hard swing to the left, particularly when it relates to policing policies, that prosperity will slow to a halt.