Jones, Trevena vie for sheriff
By William F. West
Friday, October 12, 2018
CAMDEN — For the first time in 16 years, Camden voters will be casting ballots in a sheriff‘s election that doesn’t have Tony Perry’s name on the ballot.
Camden’s longtime sheriff decided not to seek re-election to a fifth four-year term, electing instead to retire in March.
Running to succeed him in next month’s general election are Republican Kevin Jones, a state highway patrolman, and Democrat Rick Trevena, a lieutenant with the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office in Virginia.
Jones defeated Perry’s appointed successor, Sheriff Rodney Meads, in the May Republican primary. Trevena ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
In recent interviews, both Jones and Trevena talked about the changes they would make if elected on Nov. 6 to head the Camden Sheriff’s Office and its $1.7 million annual budget.
Jones said he intends to revamp the internal structure of the sheriff's office if he’s elected.
"No. 1, I'm going to insert a strict chain of command with experience and qualified supervisors," he said.
Additionally, he plans to impose a system of employee evaluations, which he said would assist him in awarding merit-based pay raises and promotions.
Jones also plans to upgrade the citizen complaint process — something he says would help ensure transparency. He said anyone who makes a formal complaint against a sheriff’s employee will be notified about the progress of the probe and whether action is taken against the employee.
Jones also says he’ll be a "working sheriff." He plans to wear a sheriff’s uniform and get out in the field. He said his intention is not to look over deputies' shoulders, but to motivate them to see themselves and him as part of a larger team.
If he’s elected, Trevena said he plans to conduct a complete assessment of the sheriff's office and its personnel policies. However, he said his main focus will be on creating a “civic-minded division” within the department that “focuses on programs that directly benefit our citizens."
That new division will focus on initiatives for youths and seniors he plans to launch. It also will host and sponsor monthly events for those groups.
Regarding seniors, Trevena said he plans to launch a “civility and wellness” program allowing the sheriff's office to connect with them directly. He envisions the program providing seniors rides to the Camden Senior Center, for example.
He said he’s currently involved in a Life Enrichment Program through the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office that has law enforcement officers working with struggling students. If he’s elected, he would bring a similar program to Camden, he said.
"I mean, we're public servants," Trevena said. "We should be serving the public in every way possible."
In North Carolina, sheriffs can hire and fire employees at will. Both Jones and Trevena made clear they have no plans for any wholesale shakeup to sheriff’s office personnel if they’re elected.
Jones said he already knows many of the deputies and their abilities, so he doesn't foresee many issues as far as performance. At the same time, however, he would consider terminations if an employee wasn’t performing up to standards even after remediation, mentoring and counseling sessions.
"We're going to have to take baby steps and it's going to be a while while I'm sitting down at the desk and getting everybody up to speed on the reorganization and how we're going to do it," he said.
If he’s elected sheriff, Trevena said employees' conduct, demeanor and productivity will be fully evaluated. "And from there we'll make a decision whether or not Camden County is the correct fit for them," he said.
Trevena said he anticipates most current employees are doing a great job and are interested in continuing to serve Camden’s citizens. At the same time, he, too, would be willing to part ways with employees who are not interested in serving with him or who have past performance or disciplinary issues.
"Certainly, in the first 30 days, I'd like to identify who's interested in serving the Camden citizens and the visions that they've elected,” he said. “And then after we've identified who's interested in serving those visions and serving the residents, we'll be able to establish the personnel."
Both candidates commented on what they see as the top law enforcement problem in Camden, and what can be done to address it.
Jones said property crimes such as breaking and entering and larceny are the biggest law enforcement concern. He believes the crimes are largely tied to illegal drug abuse, as addicts steal and sell property to support their habits. Some of the crime is also connected to crime rings who case homes and break in when residents are away.
If he’s elected, Jones said he would change the Camden Sheriff’s Office’s concentration on traffic enforcement on U.S. Highway 17. He said he would instead have deputies concentrate their effort in the county’s residential communities to ensure quick response times.
Trevena also cited illegal drug use as a major cause of crime in Camden. However, he doesn't think the county is any different from other communities when it comes to the ongoing opioid epidemic.
Trevena said he believes drug dealers use U.S. Highway 17 and U.S. Highway 158 as transportation routes through Camden to get to Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County. From there, illegal drugs are distributed in Camden and other communities.
Trevena said he would seek a grant to set up an anti-narcotics task force to focus on countering both drug trafficking and distribution. He also would ensure deputies are trained to recognize opioid abuse and to carry and administer Narcan to reverse the symptoms of an opioid overdose.
Asked about the opioid crisis, Jones said he would have an open-door policy for opioid addicts to speak to him or any member of his staff without fear of arrest. He said the sheriff's office in turn can provide resources to get addicts get help.
"If we do that, we develop a rapport and trust with these people," he said.
Both candidates agree school safety will be a top priority if they’re elected.
Trevena said school safety in fact ranks first among his campaign priorities. If elected, he plans to lobby state lawmakers for funding to put school resource officers at all Camden schools.
Currently, the Camden Sheriff's Office has an SRO at Camden High School and Camden Early College. The department also has a second SRO who splits their time between Camden Middle School and Camden Intermediate School/Grandy Primary School.
Trevena said that's not acceptable. If he’s elected, he wants a satellite sheriff’s office on one Camden school campus. An SRO would work at that school, he said.
"I will go so far as to travel to Raleigh myself and insist that they emergency-fund that," he said. "I will go so far as to tell them that if something were to happen in one of our schools that they'll have blood on their hands."
Jones said if he’s elected, he’ll push for hiring a third school resource officer so there at least would be one SRO at all three campuses.
"That way, we've got coverage throughout the county all the time while school is in session," he said.
Jones also plans to have deputies on the day shift maintain a high-visibility presence around school campuses when school is in session. He also would have deputies visit schools and conduct periodic walk-throughs.
Both candidates cite their experience as assets.
Jones began his career in law enforcement by serving four years as a police officer in Elizabeth City. He has worked for the Highway Patrol for 24 years and says he’s currently semi-retired. He said Oct. 31 will be his last day with the agency.
He said he can't begin to count how many hours he has spent on the witness stand testifying in different types of court cases.
"As a new sheriff coming in, I'm not one that is lacking in any particular area," he said. "And I think that's an asset when I'm coming in and expected to be a leader."
Trevena cites his experience as a Norfolk deputy for 25 years and his work with an agency that has a large annual budget.
"I'm also young and I'm energetic. I care about the citizens of Camden County," he said.
Trevena said in Virginia, it’s standard procedure for law enforcement to work hand in hand with civic-based programs.
"We need to serve the public in every way possible so that they're getting their money's worth," he said.
Political party: Republican
Occupation: N.C. Highway Patrol trooper since 1994.
Education: Diploma, Camden High School in 1981.
Past political offices/campaigns: Won May 8 Republican primary for Camden sheriff.
Civic/community affiliations: Member, N.C. Troopers Association and also once Troop A representative; member, State Employees Credit Union advisory board for the Camden branch; also served on SECU’s advisory board in Currituck County
Family: Wife, Dawn; two adult daughters, two granddaughters
Political pary: Democrat
Occupation: Lieutenant, Norfolk Sheriff’s Office in Virginia; worked for agency 25 years
Education: Associate degree in criminal justice from Tidewater Community College in Virginia
Past political offices/campaigns: None
Civic/community affiliations: Camden representative on the Albemarle Area Commission on Aging; volunteer with Camden Parks and Recreation; participant, Life Enrichment Program, Norfolk
Family: Wife, Melissa; one son, one daughter