Cochran seeks fifth term as Swain Sheriff
To be a sheriff in North Carolina is to be the most powerful elected official in a county.
In more rural areas like Western North Carolina, it is a tough gig demanding long hours. Given the lack of resources often available, it can be difficult to fulfill the statutorily mandated duties with the personnel on-hand, especially considering many deputies leave to go work in larger counties with larger budgets.
Curtis Cochran became Swain County’s sheriff in 2006 and since then he has spent 16 years in office. Despite his relatively long tenure, Cochran decided to again run for the position, facing off against Democrat Doug “Tank” Anthony in the General Election. Anthony didn’t respond to phone, email or Facebook interview requests.
Prior to becoming sheriff, Cochran was the maintenance director for Swain County, something he initially took criticism for his first few times running. However, he’s still won handily in his last few elections, besting his last General Election opponent in 2018 with 64% of the vote. Cochran, 69, said that when he first ran for sheriff over a decade and a half ago, he saw what he believed were unaddressed needs regarding the rapidly changing drug crisis.
“I talked to a lot of folks who felt the same way I did,” he said. “And I just decided to run.”
When asked why run again as he approaches his 70th birthday, Cochran simply said he loves serving the people of Swain County. But then he added that there’s still “work to be done.”
“The drug problem is still here, and we’re fighting it every day,” Cochran said, adding that he feels like there is plenty of work he hopes to follow through with.
Cochran said that during his tenure as sheriff the job itself hasn’t changed too much but the environment around law enforcement has. He mentioned the “defund the police movement” that developed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“We don’t exactly have that problem here, but there can be a trickle-down effect,” Cochran said. “Once something like that gets a little traction, some folks want to jump on board.”
That said, Cochran noted that his office has adopted some reforms people have called for surrounding things like transparency, cultural sensitivity and banning physical restraint techniques that can cause long-term injuries or even death.
“I believe those have all been for the better,” he said. “Those are a benefit to everybody.”
Cochran said he believes the biggest challenge over the next four years may be simply attracting and retaining quality deputies.
“It’s hard to recruit for this job, and pay is low, especially in Swain County,” he said.
“You’ve got to be cut out for this job, and it’s not for everybody,” he added, speaking about law enforcement in general. “Sometimes people don’t figure out that out before they get into it, and then we spend time and money training them.”
When asked what he’d want to tell the voters of Swain County amid his contested run to again become the top law enforcement officer in the county, Cochran said he believes he has done a good job as sheriff and that he believes he will continue that work.
“The voters in Swain County have elected me overwhelmingly every time,” he said. “We’re not saying that we’re perfect by any means, but I’m here for the people of Swain County to support them just like they support me. I enjoy working with people. My family all lives here. We put our kids through school here. I’m vested in this county, and I want to be a servant to people here.”
Cochran added that he thinks he’s put in the hard hours — noting that he often works 12 hours a day seven days a week — and that he plans to continue doing that if reelected. Often, when a sheriff gets older and approaches retirement age, as Cochran is, they will call it quits midway through their term so they can have a say in who becomes the interim sheriff as it gives a big leg up to that person in the following election.
Cochran said he has no intention of retiring mid-term.
“Well, I know a lot of people do that,” he said. “I can tell you I will not do that.”