More than 100 people packed the meeting room at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Wednesday and many more spilled out into the hall. With the primary election just three weeks away, the crowd came out to hear from the six men vying to be Orange County’s next sheriff.

Charles Blackwood is a 32-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office who served as Major of Operations until his retirement in 2012. He said his experience as second in command sets him apart.

“I’m the only candidate who has served in, managed or supervised all the divisions of the Sheriff’s Office,” said Blackwood. “In this job, experience matters. I have the hands-on experience in all the facets of the department that the other candidates do not have.”

Andy Cagle, an Efland businessman and the only candidate without law enforcement experience, said his plan to divide the county into smaller patrol areas will help deputies spend more time with the public.

“Reduce the size of the patrol areas so our deputies have more time to interact with you, the citizens of Orange County, to build those communications and the bond that they need to achieve their goals in deterring crime,” said Cagle.

David Caldwell retired from the Sheriff’s Office after 22 years to become a community organizer for the Rogers Road neighborhood. He said the Sheriff’s Office needs to reflect the diversity of the surrounding community. He would like to see deputies work to improve communication across cultures.

“One of the things I’d like to see is more culture training to deal with the diversity in the community,” said Caldwell. “Not just learning to say, ‘put your hands up, hands behind your back,’ or whatever. Learn ‘how’s the day going? How’s the family?’ Carry on some personal conversation to make everyone feel a part of the community.”

Larry Faucette is a retired captain who served 30 years with the Sheriff’s Office. He said he’d focus on youth services, programs in schools and outreach to parents.

“With our school to prison pipeline, we got kids going to jail before they even get out of school. I want to put programs in place to offset that,” said Faucette. “I think that’s the way to start, we’ve got to start with our youth. If we get our youth straight, I think we’ll be on that right path.”

As a sergeant on patrol with the Hillsborough Police Department, Buddy Parker said he sees drugs and gangs to be major problems facing Orange County.

“Aggressive enforcement on gang members, drug dealers, drug suppliers,”said Parker. “We all understand we’re going to have to go after the users on the street, but we need to flip them, go after the dealers, go after the suppliers. You’ve heard the old saying, ‘ you cut off a head, another two take it’s place.’ We go after the body and it won’t come back.”

Keith Webster serves with the Carrboro Police Department. He said he’d like to expand the diversity of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office the way Carrboro has done with its police force.

“I want folks to feel comfortable when they call 911 and that Sheriff’s deputy pulls up,” said Webster. “No matter who they are, where they are, or how they communicate with one another, I want them to feel safe and secure when those deputies pull up.

The forum was hosted by the Orange County Democratic Party and moderated by Chair Matt Hughes and First Vice-Chair Susan Romaine. Because all six are Democrats and there is no Republican challenger, the race will likely be decided in the May 6 primary.

However, a candidate must receive 40 percent of the vote or more to avoid a run-off. If no candidate wins outright, the second-place finisher could request a run-off, which would trigger a second primary in June.

Early voting starts April 24 and runs through May 3. The primary is May 6.