With early voting getting underway Thursday and Election Day itself just two weeks away, the two remaining candidates for Orange County Sheriff met at WCHL studios Wednesday for a forum that featured more agreement than disagreement.
Longtime law enforcement officers (and longtime colleagues) Charles Blackwood and David Caldwell were the top two vote-getters in the May primary; they’re facing each other in a runoff this month because neither got more than 40 percent of the vote. Technically the race is only for the Democratic nomination, but no Republicans are running, so the winner of the runoff on July 15 will be unopposed in November.
In Wednesday’s forum, the strongest point of departure may have been on the issue of diversity. Caldwell called for stronger efforts to recruit a more diverse body of law enforcement officers, while Blackwood argued that the sheriff’s office already has a diverse staff – but even there, both candidates agreed on the need to recruit a diverse pool of officers, and the fact that diversity alone isn’t sufficient without an effort to make personal connections with the community.
And both candidates agreed as well on the need for more community outreach, closer collaboration with Orange County’s other law enforcement agencies, and – in an emotional exchange – the continued presence of school resource officers (SROs) in the public schools.
“The safety factor is the primary issue,” said Blackwood of SROs, “but the byproduct of this is, you’ve got a mentor for that student, for that child, that they may not have at home.”
Caldwell agreed. “I think we need to see more in there…not just (in) the security aspect, but being there when school is not in,” he said. “Not when you have your badge and uniform on, but being there when they’re relaxed. You’ll find they come to you with their problems.”
Listen to Part 1 of the forum, in which the candidates discuss their background, the legacy of outgoing sheriff Lindy Pendergrass, and issues ranging from drug control to domestic violence to response times to technology.
Listen to Part 2 of the forum, in which the candidates discuss community outreach efforts, collaborating with other agencies, the sheriff’s role in the public schools, crime prevention, diversity, disaster preparedness, and how to manage a busy department.