Haywood sheriff challenger pledges modern approachWritten by Bibeka Shrestha
Voters will have a choice between a fresh or familiar face in this year’s Haywood County sheriff’s race.
Democratic incumbent Bobby Suttles has worked law enforcement in Haywood for 35 years, including 18 years at the Haywood County Sheriff’s office.
“I know the people over here. I know this office,” said Suttles.
Suttles is relying on that tenure as the foundation for his campaign. Suttles inherited the post of top lawman 18 months ago when former Sheriff Tom Alexander retired. Now Suttles must run for the seat.
His opponent Bill Wilke, a sergeant with the Asheville Police Department, said he would bring a modern approach to the table if elected.
“I think my perspective is broader,” Wilke said. “I think I have a more contemporary outlook on how those problems need to be addressed.”
Wilke wants to provide a long-term vision for the sheriff’s office that looks 10 or 15 years from now. He will focus on modern law enforcement programs and ideas that are already working in neighboring counties.
For example, Wilke is in favor of connecting criminals with community members, such as pastors.
“They need to be given a microphone,” Wilke said.
According to Wilke, moral voices could help curb crimes such as domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.
Wilke also wants to stress problem-oriented policing, which asks officers to take a long-term approach to problems rather than dashing onto a crime scene. A drug house could be thoroughly investigated to determine players before taking action, for example.
Suttles said he and his deputies already look before they leap.
“You’ve got to build your case,” Suttles said.
The sheriff’s office is already working hard to combat drugs, according to Suttles. In addition, Suttles deputized officers at the Waynesville Police Department, which has its own K-9 dog, to help battle drugs.
Suttles added that law-enforcement officers from Haywood’s municipal police departments also meet monthly to discuss problems and strategies.
Fighting for resources
Recently, Haywood commissioners expressed hesitation about accepting a $220,000 grant for equipment, vehicles and two officers who would focus on traffic enforcement. The county would have to pay an increasing portion of the two traffic officers’ salaries and take full responsibility for salaries by the fourth year.
“It’s hard to understand when they want to turn down grants,” said Suttles, who has often stressed the need for more officers and newer equipment at the sheriff’s office. “Sometimes, our hands are just tied here with the commissioners. They don’t have the money.”
Wilke said he would try to compromise with commissioners over budget items, but the sheriff’s office also should wisely allocate the resources it already has.
Wilke hopes to do an assessment of operations at the sheriff’s office to make sure resources are used efficiently.
But according to Suttles, the recession, not wasteful spending, is the problem.
“We’re not frivolously spending money, but you can only do so much,” Suttles said.
During his short term, Suttles has successfully pursued grants that have brought Tasers and mobile data terminals to the Haywood sheriff’s office. Video arraignments should be available by mid-October, cutting down on officer time spent shuttling criminals between jail and the courthouse.
Rather than focus on grants, however, Wilke said he would try to generate revenue from drug seizures. Law enforcement agencies can keep a portion of the money they seize from narcotics dealers.
“You hit the drug problem in this county, and you’re going to have a great effect on ancillary crimes,” Wilke said. “It’s a win-win all the way around. We’re just not doing it right.”
Wilke said the sheriff’s office could profit more from seizing drug dealers’ assets than going after grants. Moreover, there wouldn’t be any strings attached.