Farmer focuses on detention, patrol with JCSO
Settling into the role of sheriff is tough for any law enforcement professional, but in Jackson County, Doug Farmer brings a wide range of police experience to the role — experience that has made the transition a bit easier.
Although he’d run for sheriff before, 2022 was Farmer’s first successful bid as he beat out Democrat Rick Buchanan narrowly with 51.9% of the vote.
Farmer came into office after spending years in different facets of law enforcement. He began his career with 11 years at the Macon County Sheriff’s Office where he performed a variety of duties, from patrol to working at the detention center. Following a short stint with the Highlands Police Department, Farmer spent a year in Iraq as a contractor training various law enforcement agencies in that country.
“I worked training law enforcement embedded with military units and helped them set up police stations, monitor logistics and made sure things were going well,” he said. “It was quite the experience.”
In 2010, Farmer went to work for the Sylva Police Department, where he remained until he retired in 2019.
While he does have diverse law enforcement experiences, he said there was still a learning curve early on after he was elected, adding that he thinks he’s over the hump and settling into the job.
“Things have settled down,” he said. “I think we’ve found what you would call our groove or cruising speed.”
Farmer changed up some of his staff upon being sworn in and even let some of the prior command staff go. In fact, the sheriff’s office doesn’t currently have a chief deputy, which is normally the second in command. Instead, the next highest-ranking members are the captains over patrol, civil process, courthouse security and operations.
“I feel good about where we’re at with that,” Farmer said.
There have been five jail deaths in Jackson County since 2016, and from time to time during that period, individuals have been charged with possessing drugs in the detention center. Last year, the county purchased a body scanner for nearly $150,000 to check for contraband on inmates as they’re processed.
Still, concerns of potential overdoses weigh on Farmer’s mind.
“Sometimes you don’t know if they’ve taken anything prior to coming in, and unless they’re honest with you on the intake and tell you ‘hey, I’ve taken something prior,’ you won’t know,” Farmer said.
Farmer said they have nursing staff that can handle people going through detox and a physician who comes in and checks inmates’ vitals weekly. And for those battling addiction, the jail has instituted a medication assisted treatment program aimed at people addicted to drugs or alcohol. Along with receiving counseling and education on addiction, those individuals will be treated with Vivitrol, a monthly shot that curbs cravings.
“Folks say it works extremely well for those who may have some form of dependency,” Farmer said. “We’re excited about having the chance to offer that here.”
Several jails around the region have recently remodeled their bathrooms to mitigate the spread of mold. Farmer said he’s done that, and more.
“We’ve repainted the jail, too,” he said.
On the patrol front, the sheriff’s office has added personnel to allow for two deputies to work in the Cashiers area whenever possible, especially during times of increased traffic from visitors.
“We’re just getting inundated with complaints from speeding and reckless driving to road rage incidents there,” Farmer said.
Deputies have also increased license checkpoints, which has led to drug seizures and DWI charges. In addition, based on requests from property owners in certain areas, he’s had deputies patrol more around businesses that have been targets of property crimes.
Farmer said he has one deputy who focuses on internet and phone scams that target elderly folks. Their main job is education; that deputy presents at venues like senior centers to tell people about the different ways scammers use social media and cell phones to take advantage of others.
Farmer said a big focus is career development for his deputies, which often comes in the form of continuing career education — along with helping to further deputies’ careers, that can also bring new skills to the sheriff’s office.
“We’re trying to bring as much training here to the office and put as many of our people in seats as we can to get them trained up in different things,” he said.
Farmer said the learning curve coming in may have been sharper than he initially thought but added that he feels good about where his office is now.
“No matter how much you know about law enforcement when you come into this job, if you’ve never been in the shoes, it’s going to be a lot,” he said. “There’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes that people will never see that that you’re responsible for.”
And while the job still presents no shortage of obstacles, Farmer said he likes the challenge.
“It’s good because it keeps you on your toes,” he said. “Sometimes you might have someone leave or you have to make a tough decision. I guess you get that in any profession, but our job is so important that you can’t make many mistakes.”
A slate of new sheriffs
In North Carolina, the county sheriff is the locally elected leader with the most power and the most responsibility. Not only are they charged with keeping the jail secure, they’re responsible for all civil process, securing the courthouse, fiscal and personnel management, community engagement, government relations at all levels and, of course, the safety and well-being of the people they serve.
It’s a job where experience matters and having an established cohesive staff with a common understanding of a sheriff’s vision is paramount.
Last year, the majority of sheriffs elected in Western North Carolina were brand new to the job and faced not only the everyday challenges and stressors common to that role, but they also had to adjust to the sharp learning curve and decide just what kind of leaders they wanted to be.
In The Smoky Mountain News’ four-county coverage area, there are three sheriffs who have been on the job less than a year. While in many counties in the past, the job of sheriff has gone to a Democrat who beat a Republican in the General Election, this year each sheriff west of Buncombe County is a Republican, and each has a slightly different vision for their office.
SMN spoke with the three new sheriffs in our coverage area. Here’s what they had to say.