Allen campaigns on experience in bid for sheriff

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 15, 2021

SALISBURY — Travis Allen says his 20 years of experience in the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office separate him from a still-growing field of candidates for the agency’s top job.

Allen, who started his campaign in February, is one of six candidates planning to run for sheriff in 2022 because incumbent Kevin Auten says he won’t seek re-election. Other candidates include: Mike Caskey, a county commissioner and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer; Tommie Cato, a school resource officer, retired state trooper and military veteran; Greg Hannold, a captain in the Sheriff’s Office who oversees the jail; and Brad Potts, a retired state trooper whose family has a long history in local law enforcement.

The newest candidate in the race is Jack Eller, a lifelong farmer who who owns a trucking company and has run for sheriff previously. Eller, who started his campaign in May, plans to run in the Republican primary after previously seeking the same office as a Democrat.

Allen says the entire field combined can’t equal his experience in the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. He went to work for the Salisbury Police Department in 1994 after receiving a bachelor’s degree from Pensacola Christian College and moved to the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office in 1998. He’s currently an investigator after working in various divisions within the Sheriff’s Office.

“If you’re going to lead an office and understand officer morale and what they go through every day, I think you have to have been there,” he said. “I understand what our patrol officers go through because I’ve been there. I’ve been in their shoes. In order to improve an office, you have to know what works and you have to know what doesn’t.”

Allen said he was inspired to pursue a career in law enforcement after seeing former Sheriff John Stirewalt in the McDonald’s on East Innes Street sharply dressed, wearing a Stetson gentleman’s hat and carrying a Colt revolver in his holster.

“As a little boy, you don’t remember a whole lot of things, but to this day I still remember that,” he said.

Allen ran for sheriff once before, in 2010, and finished second to Auten. With seven candidates, Auten received 53.72% of the vote. Allen received 19.49%. Allen is currently a member of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education — a position he first won in 2014.

Allen said he promised Auten to continue working for the Sheriff’s Office and that he wouldn’t challenge him again as long as Auten wanted to remain sheriff. Allen said he held out as long as he could before launching his campaign in the 2022 race. With candidates moving quickly to start their campaigns, he didn’t want to wait until the fall or after filing started.

“You’ve got to at least get your name out there, fundraise and reach out to donors. You have to let the public know that you are in the race as well,” he said.

He promised to run a clean, positive campaign and “not play dirty politics.”

If elected, Allen wants to more widely publicize good work done by the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, create a position whose sole job is recruiting and serving as public information officer, encourage more communication between narcotics and criminal investigations and either ask for more patrol officers to handle an increased call volume or, if commissioners decline the request, reduce the number of administrative positions to fund more officer positions.

Asked about community-law enforcement relations, Allen said deputies need to “treat every person like they’re our mother.” After racial justice movements in the previous year, Allen said he’s “not naive enough to know that we make mistakes” but that there’s “no war against minorities from law enforcement.” He questioned whether there’s a Hispanic officer in the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office at all.

He wants deputies to be “colorblind” and to examine temperament issues during the hiring process.

“If they’re bad to start, you’re not going be be able to train that,” he said.

Recruiting new officers is a particularly difficult issue for law enforcement agencies across the country, and Allen said the best candidates may receive job officers with better compensation from larger departments. That’s why creating a position specifically dedicated to recruiting is important, he said.

Filing for the Rowan County sheriff’s race won’t be until December. The Republican primary, when the eventual office-holder is likely to be decided, could be in March, but delays in Census data also threaten to push back primaries until later in the year.

Calls and emails to Eller for inclusion in this story weren’t returned.