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Birkhead for Durham County Sheriff - Platform

I want a Durham where all people are safe - where no matter what neighborhood you live in you can sit on your front porch and your kids can play outside. I believe that we can realize this vision but it will take leadership that is innovative, collaborative and inclusive. As sheriff I will be committed to a progressive approach that includes everyone and that ensures law enforcement that is professional, well trained and caring.


A 9-year old at a middle school recently told me he could get a gun quicker than he could get a meal. This is a profound testament to the challenges we face and encapsulates why I do this work. I believe - and we must all believe - that Durham can be a place where our children do not live in neighborhoods where guns are easier to come by than a meal.

When I was a young officer in Randolph County, I was the only African-American officer. This experience taught me how to meet people where they are. One of the most important skills I have learned over my career is how to communicate so that all people leave encounters with law enforcement feeling whole.  


As sheriff, I am committed to leading with compassion, empathy and accessibility. I will be a collaborative leader who brings in a range of perspectives - including those often not heard and those who disagree with me. I will welcome hard conversations and dissenting opinions because embracing those conversations is the only way we can change policies and culture.


I will bring a new perspective to the sheriff’s office - one that benefits from a wide range of professional and personal experiences. This platform outlines my vision for building One Community * One Durham and my commitments to you.


As your sheriff, I will work every day for:

A Durham County where all people are safe and live free from harm or fear.

This will be possible when:

Neighborhoods are safe.

  • Focus on preventing crime and supporting people in our neighborhoods.

  • Empower communities to keep each other safe. The absence of crime is not the presence of law enforcement - in fact, the opposite is true. That means neighborhoods need to know how to keep themselves safe in a way that does not employ racial profiling or bias.

  • Reduce(Address) domestic violence through training and other innovative approaches.


Create a Durham where citizens feel safe from gun violence.

  • Advance strategies to minimize access to weapons and guns flowing into our communities.

  • Be bolder in trying out promising new programs or approaches from other communities that have proven effective in reducing violent crime while decreasing the number of people in our jails.

  • Decrease the number of unsecured guns in homes that our children can access.

  • Provide meaningful gun safety education and training.


Immigrant community feels welcome and safe.  

  • Make a clear and uncompromising commitment to not cooperate with ICE. We will not honor ICE detainers. We will not participate in ICE roundups. We will not do checkpoints for immigration purposes.

  • Support Faith ID program and other local workarounds designed to welcome and serve our immigrant neighbors.


People in our jail are safe and treated humanely.

  • Operate a jail that is safe, efficient, clean and humane.

  • Maintain in-person visitation rights.

  • Review jail contracts and consider where new contracts could improve jail conditions and reduce the cost burden borne by those in the jail.


People who interact with law enforcement feel safe.

  • Prioritize meaningful and effective trainings that reduce use of force by officers. This includes de-escalation training that teaches officers the skill of diffusing a situation.

  • Create a professional development track for officers that identifies their needs and prioritizes building the skills they need to serve the community.


Students and staff in our schools are safe.  

  • Re-envision what the School Resource Officer (SRO) program should look like, and provide training to reduce use of force by SROs.

  • Utilize security technologies to minimize access and limit mobility of an active shooter; remote lockdown of classrooms so staff and students can shelter in place.

  • Foster relationships between our schools and their surrounding communities.


Leadership that is transparent, accessible and accountable.

This will be possible when the sheriff’s office:

Shares timely and accurate information with the public.

  • Commits to keeping the public informed about what is happening and how the office is working toward our vision of a Durham where all people are safe.

  • Responds to concerns in the community in a timely and transparent manner.


Listens to the community and welcomes ongoing conversation.

  • Sets standing times when the public can meet with and talk directly to the sheriff.

  • Makes opportunities for the jail to be open for tours from the public.

  • Commits to engaging in community conversations no matter how challenging the topic.


Works with you and follows through on promises.

  • Creates a meaningful citizens review board that gives the power of accountability to the people.

  • Holds officers accountable when they use force.

  • Hires officers who represent the diversity of the communities they serve.


A criminal justice system that is truly just and equitable.

That will be possible when the sheriff’s office:

  • Supports efforts to ensure people are not detained in our jails because they are poor or have unmet mental health needs.

  • Works in concert with other agencies and organizations to assess the needs of those detained in our jail and connect individuals to the supports they need to help break the cycle of recidivism.

  • Works to end practices of publications that exploit the stigma attached to a person’s mugshot for financial gain.

  • Supports work outside sheriff’s office that addresses the root causes of violence.

  • Joins others working to reduce evictions and their harmful impacts in our neighborhoods.

  • Remains committed to thinking outside the box and trying new ideas - there are innovative models out there we can bring to Durham.

  • Fosters collaboration with the City Police Department to advance this platform.

  • Supports the following recommendations made by the Human Relations Commission:

    • Leverage the Durham County Commissioners’ authority to approve contracts and provide funding to demand more accountability and better services by private contractors and the Durham County Sheriff within the Durham County Detention Facility (DCDF).

    • Increase resources for mental health services within the jail beyond the current level, while also implementing a mental health diversion program to connect qualifying defendants with appropriate services in lieu of detention.

    • Allow a community-based research team to conduct a survey of detainees and staff of the DCDF.

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