Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Feb. 16 to add additional context to one of Lee Melvin’s quotes.

As the five men talked about their platforms, it became clear that there existed some differences of opinion on priorities, but one key goal seemed to be unanimous amongst all the Republican candidates for Guilford County Sheriff.

“At the end of the day, I just want someone who can beat Danny Rogers,” said Wayne Ford, an organizer with the Guilford County Republican Party.

On Tuesday afternoon, more than 50 local Republicans gathered at Kickback Jack’s in Greensboro to hear five Republican candidates for Guilford County Sheriff speak.

The Guilford County Sheriff’s race is one of many that will appear on the Republican ballot during the primary election on May 17. The primary was originally scheduled for March 8 but was moved due to the ongoing battles related to redistricting.

As of Dec. 8, 2021, seven candidates have filed to run for Guilford County Sheriff, including incumbent Democrat Sheriff Danny Rogers. The filing period was suspended on Dec. 8 and is scheduled to reopen on Feb. 24. Currently there is only one other Democrat, Therron J. “TJ” Phipps, who has filed. Rogers became the first Black sheriff of Guilford County in 2018, when he beat Republican incumbent BJ Barnes, who had served as sheriff for 24 years. Barnes was elected the mayor of Summerfield in November 2019.

Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers

On the Republican side, the sheriff’s race is much larger, with at least six candidates who have either filed to run or expressed interest in running. Five of them spoke to voters on Tuesday at the monthly Republican Speakers Forum: Phil Byrd, EL “Lee” Melvin, Adam Moore, Billy Queen and William White. Randy Powers, who has also filed to run, did not attend the forum. William White has not yet filed to run but spoke at the event.

One woman in the audience, who wished to remain anonymous, said that her priorities for sheriff were community safety, officer support and staff retention. And as the individual candidates took their turns to address the voters, many of them focused on those three issues as well as level of experience, but also how to become more involved in schools.

Phil Byrd: “This is not a sheriff-in-training position. This is a sheriff-in-action position.”

Phil Byrd (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Among the candidates, the one who touted the most experience working as part of the sheriff’s office was Phil Byrd.

Byrd, who retired in 2014 as a senior captain of the sheriff’s office, said that during his 30-year tenure he learned how to navigate the office and understood the ways in which the different divisions worked with one another. That kind of experience is necessary for the sheriff, Byrd said.

“This is not a sheriff-in-training position,” he said. “This is a sheriff-in-action position.”

In addition to his years of service with GCSO, Byrd said that he wanted to build trust and loyalty within the department again and to make sure that employees felt supported, although he did not give any specifics as to how to raise morale.

In addition to increasing officer retention, Byrd touched on his intentions to support those who speak out at school board meetings.

“I will be the sheriff that goes to school board meetings,” Byrd said. “We need the sheriff to go to school board meetings and lay out the problems, lay out the proposals and let the school board answer the problems through the sheriff.”

Lee Melvin: “It wasn’t an insurrection.”

Lee Melvin (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Lee Melvin, the only Black candidate in the pool of Republicans, also worked for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department but for only three months in 2018, when he resigned “due to the unstable environment the sheriff was creating with the officers and staff,” according to his LinkedIn profile. Prior to working for GCSO, Melvin worked for 24 years as a state trooper, the last 18 of those stationed in Guilford County. He, like many of the other candidates who spoke on Tuesday, said how morale in the sheriff’s office had declined under Sheriff Rogers’ leadership and pointed to Rogers as the main problem.

“Danny Rogers has managed to destroy the solid foundation of the sheriff’s office,” Melvin said. “I left after 11 weeks.”

Melvin was also the only candidate who touched directly on the Jan. 6 insurrection, noting that it wasn’t an insurrection.

“They call it an insurrection. We all know what it was; it wasn’t an insurrection,” Melvin said. “But how do we combat these forces that are trying to take away your God-given rights?”

(Updated Feb. 16): Echoing Trump’s playbook, Melvin instead, cast blame on “extremist groups” who “destroy[ed] our property, [burned] our buildings” during the 2020 protests that swept the nation following the killing of George Floyd.

“And because they’re a certain race, we have to say, ‘Well, we can step back,’ like we did in 2020,” Melvin said. “That will not happen on my watch.”

Adding to Byrd’s support for those speaking out at school board meetings, Melvin took it one step further.

“If I’m sheriff, you can stand on top of the desk and scream from the top of your lungs about what’s right for your child’s education,” Melvin asserted. “That’s your First Amendment right.”

While the sheriff’s office may provide deputies to monitor school board meetings, the school board members have the right to have any individuals removed from meetings if they so choose.

Melvin also said that if he were elected, he would decrease the amount of time to get a gun permit to “six weeks or less.” The current process notes that applicants are informed within 14 days whether their permits would be granted or denied.

Lastly, Melvin argued that there weren’t enough law enforcement officers in schools, promising to double or triple the number of officers if elected.

While the rise of gun violence across the country has affected every county in the state, studies such as the Congressional Research Service report from 2013 which looked at the effectiveness of police in schools, showed little connection between the presence of officers and changes in crime or student discipline rates. However, multiple studies have shown that the presence of officers in schools lead to an increase in suspensions and arrests and disproportionately impact students of color.

Adam Moore: “I want to bring the small-town approach to law enforcement to the county.”

Adam Moore (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Adam Moore has worked in law enforcement since 2014 and also considered the importance of employee morale and staff retention. Moore, who appeared to be the youngest candidate at the forum along with William White, pointed to an increase in community policing as a way to bring the “small-town approach to the county.”

According to his LinkedIn, Moore has worked as a police officer for the Haw River Police Department and said how many of the officers there know at least 75 percent of the people in the community. Because of that, Moore said that, were he elected, he would have his deputies working in the communities where they live as much as possible. He also repeatedly pushed for the importance of the sheriff and deputies having a presence in all parts of the county, not just in Greensboro.

“Community police is having a sheriff’s office that is in the community and also a part of the community,” Moore said. “We can’t just have someone that sits in Greensboro.”

Later in the forum, Moore said that he’s worked for two small agencies that had a small staff and that he wants to bring “the small-town approach to law enforcement to the county.”

Billy Queen: “[The bad guys] have to be treated with respect also.”

Billy Queen (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

While he has never worked for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, Billy Queen has worked for more than 30 years in law enforcement, including in positions with the US Border Patrol and as a special agent in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Because of that, Queen said that he has outside, national-level experience that he could bring to a local department.

“What you need to be looking for in your sheriff, is not necessarily your experience in the jail,” Queen said. “Experience is important but that’s not the determining factor that you need to be looking for. Look at that individual’s leadership ability, his ability to deal with people inside the agency and outside that agency, look at his ability to make the right command decisions at the right time.”

One of the most striking parts of Queen’s experience came later in the event when an audience member asked about how each candidate would make sure they knew what was going on in the community. To that, Queen said that he had experience working as an undercover agent which gave him a personal view of how law enforcement officers treat criminals.

“When I was undercover, I got to see how the police treat the bad guys out there, I got to see it first-hand,” Queen said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in here that felt like he had to keep his hands on the steering wheel or he was gonna get shot…. Well, listen, there’s a part of our community that does feel that way. And I’ve been there and I’ve seen it and felt it. I know how to approach that, I know how to tell my people, ‘This is what is going on in that community over there.’”

As an undercover agent, Queen said he was subjected to aggressive behavior by the police including being kicked.

“I know there are bad guys out there, but they’ve got to be treated with respect also,” Queen said. “If you want respect, you have to treat them with respect.”

In addition to bridging the gap between law enforcement and the community, Queen stated that he would use his national experience to communicate with the different agencies around Guilford County and Greensboro such as city council, the county commissioners and district attorneys.

“My experience didn’t stop at the borders of Guilford County, I worked at the borders of the United States of America,” Queen said. “I can bring here what I’ve learned working throughout the United States.”

William White: “We have to reach across the aisle… but hold true to our values.”

William White (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

As one of the youngest candidates running, along with Adam Moore, White doesn’t have as many years of professional experience but did come with specific policy plans for if he’s elected as sheriff. White, who served in the Marine Corps and has worked as an officer with the Greensboro Police Department, said that if he were to be elected, he would work with the county commissioners to increase all deputies’ annual salary to $60,000 per year.

He also expressed an interest in utilizing technology, such as developing an app where citizens can request calls for service and communicate directly with sheriff’s deputies.

This, White said, will work to increase community awareness, because the idea of going back to an “Andy Griffith” era where all officers know each citizen isn’t possible anymore because of “urban sprawl.”

White also echoed other candidates’ concerns about safety in schools, promising that if he were elected, that none of the deputies under his watch would be “cowards” who “sit outside while children are murdered.” White was likely alluding to the police officer who was accused of hiding during the Parkland School Shooting in 2018.

Lastly, White stated the importance of working with Democrats to make changes. Earlier in his statement, White listed the number of registered voters by party, alluding to the fact that the Republican party is outnumbered by both Democrats and independents.

“We have roughly 89,000 registered Republicans right now, and we have almost 170,000 registered Democrats and about 120,000 registered unaffiliated,” White said.

The numbers on the State Board of Elections site as of Feb. 12 showed that the number of registered Democrats at 159,653.

“We are in the battle of our life, and we are in a position that we have to reach across the aisle and be willing to sacrifice a little but to hold true to our values and our morals,” White said. “We have to reach across and get more people on our side or we will not win November, period. It is mathematically impossible. I am willing to make that jump.”

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