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The bid to be sheriff in Mecklenburg County 

The last time two Democrats faced off for the office of the sheriff in a primary race was 1998. That's not counting the chaos that occurred two years ago after former Mecklenburg County Sheriff Jim Pendergraph left his position to take a job with the federal government and the county's Democratic party had to appoint his replacement. What ensued was front page news for months as current State Rep. Nick Mackey and then Chief Deputy Daniel "Chipp" Bailey faced off. A lawsuit was filed, questions about the validity of the Democrats' process were raised and finally Bailey was appointed sheriff.

On May 4, Bailey will face former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer Antoine Ensley, who said he returned to Charlotte in 2008 specifically to run for the office of sheriff, in the primary election. Creative Loafing sat down with both candidates last week to find out their views on running the sheriff's office, updates on 287(g) (the program that authorizes the federal government to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, permitting designated officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions) and why they deserve your vote.

Creative Loafing: Why did you decide to run for Mecklenburg County sheriff?

Chipp Bailey: When I was appointed sheriff, after the selection process, I made a commitment to that staff that I had in place that I would run again in two years -- after the ordeal that they had been though. There are still some changes that I want to make in the sheriff's office. We've opened a new vocation center, and there are other things I want to see before I decide what I'm going to do with the rest of my life.

Antoine Ensley: I realized that it was time for reform in the community. We've had the same type of sheriff model in this county for a long time. We're lacking in the type of collaboration we need to prevent young people from coming into the system. I felt like it was time to step up and change the leadership and change the perspective in the criminal justice system here in Mecklenburg County.

What are the biggest issues currently facing the sheriff's office?

Bailey: The economy and the budget shortfall. We've already had to make cuts, and we're at bare bones. Budget cuts impact operations, which can, in turn, impact public safety.

Ensley: The biggest issues [are] transparency, and also employee relations. We lack true collaboration for building alternative and diversion programs where the system cannot overly rely on jail -- especially for low-risk offenders. We've built a lot of jail space in this town, but we haven't spent enough time building a collaborative system and that's not just the sheriff's department -- that's the entire criminal justice system. We lack the creativity and the diversion programs that create options for the court.

Will there be any changes to 287(g)?

Bailey: That will depend on Washington, D.C. In Mecklenburg County, all 287(g) does is allow us to identify who is arrested. We don't make any decisions on if they are to be deported. We detain them and ask the federal government what they want us to do with them. Most people don't really understand 287(g) because in some areas of the country it is abused. But for now, it is working for us in Mecklenburg County. I always say, if you don't want to get caught up in 287(g), don't get arrested.

Ensley: Yes. I don't support the program. I would go back to the table with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. I don't think it's very effective at all; there is no data that supports that it is effective. What data that is out there, shows that. It's not the tool that people make it out to be. It's mostly low-risk offenders and traffic violators [who are being arrested].

How do you differ from your opponent?

Bailey: The difference in me and my opponent is that I was born and raised here. I spent 37 years in law enforcement in Mecklenburg County, and for the last two years I've been the sheriff. What that gives me is a complete understanding of the needs of Mecklenburg County. I've developed a relationship with Rodney Monroe [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police chief] and the police chiefs of the other six towns. I have knowledge of the job, and I understand what needs to be done for the county.

Ensley: I'm creative. I have a collaborative spirit. I know and realize that in order to solve some of the more substantive issues in our community that we can't just do it as a criminal justice system. We need to embrace collaboration and build models and goals that are associated with social services, the school system and mental health. You have to think differently about how you do your job. I don't collaborate just in the law enforcement community but in all aspects of the community -- and that's public sector, private sector and the faith-based community.

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