This year’s general election takes place on Nov. 8. Early voting will start on Oct. 20 and runs through Nov. 5. For more information on voting, including how to register, vote by mail and more, visit the Guilford County Board of Elections website here.

In the race for Guilford County Sheriff, two familiar candidates will face off in the general election. Incumbent Danny Rogers, a Democrat who has served since 2018, will face Republican candidate Phil Byrd, who served in the sheriff’s office for 30 years. The sheriff leads the entire department, which acts as the primary law enforcement agency for Guilford County, and is responsible for a budget of approximately $83 million. The sheriff’s office is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the state and is responsible for operating two jail facilities and courthouses in Greensboro and High Point, and patrol duties of several towns inside Guilford County.

Danny Rogers became the first Black sheriff of Guilford County after he unseated six-term incumbent Republican BJ Barnes in 2018. Prior to becoming sheriff, he worked in the Guilford County Detention Center from 1985-87 and as a High Point police officer from 1987-90. He also worked in the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office from 1990-93 and then had more than a 20-year-gap before being elected to sheriff in 2018.

Phil Byrd spent his 30-year career in law enforcement with the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, retiring in 2014 at the rank of captain. During his three decades, he commanded the personnel and training division, internal affairs division, school resource officers division and field operations division.

Why are you running for sheriff?

During his first term, Rogers said he accomplished getting the department a CALEA accreditation, a national standard which includes having comprehensive and written directives, community relationship-building and independent review. The incumbent also noted that he started a monthly sheriff’s roundtable to increase transparency and bridge the gap with the community.

Rogers said he is running for a second term as sheriff to continue the work he started in his first term. He said that he has been focused on meeting the needs of a “remarkably diverse community” by “reducing crime and the fear of crime.” If re-elected, he said he would continue to focus his efforts on reducing crime, providing safe schools, streets and neighborhoods, eliminating drug and gang activity, combating sex trafficking, reducing recidivism, preventing domestic violence and addressing mental health concerns inside and outside of the detention centers.

Danny Rogers being sworn in in 2018 (file photo)

Byrd said if elected, he would focus on transparency and increasing departmental morale. He said that doesn’t believe that the office is “heading in the right direction.” He also referenced the 2020 protests and said that thile he supports peaceful protest, “the damage and violence to our downtown businesses was unacceptable.” 

Byrd said he is also increasingly concerned with gun violence and the “continued rise in violence.” He said that he has watched Greensboro in the past few years, “spiral out of control with violent crime.”

Although much has been reported about an increase in violent crime in the last few years, particularly during the pandemic, data from the state database as well as local sources shows a less straightforward assessment of crime. From 2019-20, the Greensboro Police Department saw an increase of 1 percent in overall crimes committed, but a 10.6 percent increase in violent crime. However, for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, there was a 4 percent decrease of overall crime and a 4 percent decrease for violent crimes. 

From 2020-21, GPD saw a 2 percent decrease in overall crime and a 3.2 percent decrease in violent crime. The same year, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office saw a 6 percent decrease in overall crime and a 5.5 percent decrease in violent crime.

More recent data data collected by the GPD shows that compared to this time last year, homicides have fallen by 12 percent, as have forcible rape and sex offenses (falling by 17 and 13 percent respectively), but aggravated assault has spiked with an increase of 91 percent.

What are the biggest issues facing the department right now?

Both candidates see eye to eye when it comes to the biggest obstacles facing the department currently. Rogers and Byrd said that staffing and hiring are the biggest issues but discussed different approaches to solving the problem.

Rogers said that the department will soon be offering $5,000 sign-on bonuses to increase recruitment and is working with younger people to help them consider a career in law enforcement.

Byrd, on the other hand, said that a change in leadership is necessary to improve conditions.

“We must bring trust at a leadership level before any substantial improvements in this area will stabilize,” he said. “No further progress in any level of service will improve until there is a change in leadership.”

What response would you have for people who are advocating for defunding or reforming the police?

In their responses on the movement to reform or defund the police, both candidates also appeared to align. 

Rogers said that he doesn’t believe in defunding the police and that “we must have police, and we will have to police,” but that the job can be done through increased transparency like through the roundtables. He also said he wants to continue training officers to de-escalate situations.

“I have gone beyond the rhetoric of ‘defund or reform the police’ and tried to determine what they really mean,” Rogers said. “This is how I operate.”

Byrd also stated that he is against defunding law enforcement.

“Defunding the police has already cost lives in other parts of the country,” he said. “The fact is we must have police in our communities. There is a very thin line between chaos and crime and living in safe and peaceful communities.”

Phil Byrd speaking at a Republican luncheon in 2021 (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

He advocated for changing the dynamics of policing through community policing, something he said has been forgotten.

“The affected members of our communities MUST have a voice,” he said. “Must be part of the resolution. With NO buy-in for any practice or strategy you will continue to have the same separation we see today.”

How do you think the changing laws around abortion has affected the department as an agency operating in one of the last abortion-protected states in the South?

Rogers said that so far, the federal abortion laws have not impacted the sheriff’s office. “The Guilford County Sheriff’s Office will uphold the law and continue to protect women’s rights as the law stipulates,” Rogers said.

Similarly, Byrd said that “it should not affect the current Sheriff’s Policy, nor should it mine in how the Sheriff’s Office operates. We are not law makers, and I have not seen any change in NC Law surrounding abortion rights.”

What do you think the department should be spending the most money on?

Both Rogers and Byrd noted that most of the department’s budget is spent on staffing. Byrd also said that given that fact, more money should be spent on building a sense of community again.

“We should be bridging the models of policing ‘with’ the neighborhoods,” he said. “Every neighborhood may have a different set of issues. Do their issues change? Do we listen more than we speak?”

He suggested using more money to educate youth and to develop mentor programs.

What are your thoughts on police surveillance?

Rogers said that with the issues with staffing that the department is facing, technology like the license plate readers the Greensboro police are increasingly using, could help the sheriff’s office fulfill its mission.

Byrd argued that the technology being used by many police departments, including the license plate readers, aren’t new.

“‘Surveillance’ is a broad term,” he said. “There were traffic light cameras in the city a few years back to detect stop violations, a form of surveillance. We have to weigh out the privacy aspect and safety and value in keeping citizens safe.”

If elected, he said he would have to learn more about the different technologies used and where the information goes.

What would you do to improve jail conditions and prevent deaths in jails?

Rogers said that when people are brought into the county jails, they bring with them any issues they are dealing with including mental health and drug addiction. After the closing of the Dorothea Dix mental health hospital in Raleigh in 2012, Rogers said that “incarceration seems to have become a storage facility for people in crisis.” To combat that, the department is focused on expanding reentry initiatives to reduce crime and increase services for mental illness. He also said that the department has partnered with an external agency that allows inmates to access mental health services. Increasing staffing will alleviate the problems too, he said.

Byrd also noted staffing as an issue that contributes to unsafe conditions in jails. He also said that policy reviews must take place.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

Rogers said that during his tenure over the last four years, violent and property crime has gone down and he’s improved relations with the community. Byrd said that when voters go to the polls in November, they should make their decisions from the heart, and not by party.

“We have much divide in our country and in our local leaders,” he said. “We are losing as a community to this unproductive political environment. Guilford County is better than this.”

To read the candidates’ full responses, download their answers here and here.

Read past reporting on the sheriff’s race here and here. Election Day is Nov. 8.

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