Sheriff candidates share priorities, differ on approaches

Published 12:01 am Sunday, October 9, 2022

SALISBURY — The two candidates facing off for Rowan County sheriff engaged in a debate Thursday night that gave residents a chance to find out a bit more about the plans and hopes both men have for the job.

Travis Allen and Carlton Killian were on hand at the Albert J.D. Aymer Center at Hood Seminary to answer questions submitted by attendees in advance and delivered by moderator Alissa Redmond. The debate was organized by Rowan Concerned Citizens.
Allen spent four years with the Salisbury Police Department before making the jump to the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office in 1998; he is currently a criminal detective.
Killian was an East Spencer police officer from 1987-1990, then moved to N.C. State Highway Patrol where he retired as a master trooper in 2016 and is currently part of a protective security detail for the U.S. Social Security Administration.
Both men have years of experience working in the sheriff’s office, but the leadership of the top job in RCSO would be new for both.
Initial questions included how each would address mental health, and if they would be willing to partner with other community organizations to address it.
Killian said he not only believed in addressing mental health but in starting from the inside.
“I will have a mental health unit inside the department to assist officers in processing difficult scenes,” and he would insist officers make use of it. He would also seek out grants to provide both mental health within the department and for training for deputies to learn how to address mental health issues in the community.
“I’ve always lived by the mantra ‘you ask someone, you tell someone, and then you make someone,’ ” said Allen. “Police officers have a duty to enforce the law. We’re in this generation where nobody wants to follow the rules. We have to do that.”
Killian said he would develop partnerships with organizations that have experts who are prepared to deal with mental health crisis and would call on those agencies when needed.
Both men talked about the need to support officers, from supervisors down. Killian stressed making sure supervisors are taught how to be leaders.
“Stripes on the sleeves doesn’t always mean you know how to supervise,” he said.
“If you want quality officers, you’ve gotta pay them,” said Allen. “We need to take care of our officers, and supervisors need to pay attention and be aware when an officer is struggling.”
A striking question was whether or not investigations are made into applicants for the job have any associations with Ku Klux Klan, the Proud Boys, Aryan Nation or any other groups of a similar nature.
“I have a picture, I wish I’d brought it with me, of me as a Salisbury police officer in 1994 as a rookie officer in training, walking up the street with the KKK in a parade, (he was on parade security) and I actually treasure it in a way because it shows how far we have come,” said Allen. He said extensive background checks are conducted, and he praised current Sheriff Kevin Auten for the hard work he has done in that area. “You have to stop that before they become police officers. It’s not tolerated at all.”
Killian said a lot of places have seen that happen, and “we have to watch who puts the gun and badge on. It represents Rowan County and the department, so you have to do extremely strong background checks to prevent that.”
Killian said he is determined to build strong, open relationships with groups throughout the community, including churches, but within that, he believes in accountability throughout the community — inside the department and out. He noted that groups that make a show of being supportive or of being critical but then disappear will be called out.
Allen said he would welcome participation from community groups, including churches. “Please come,” he said.
Both men said when it comes to guns, the sheriff has to follow the law to determine whether or not someone is issued a gun permit.
“A sheriff must be very active and engaged, and I personally will review any questionable applications and will not hesitate to deny, but we do have to be careful, because I can’t legally tell someone who qualifies that they can’t have a permit.”
Killian agreed that the sheriff must abide by the law, and right now there is little flexibility.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the candidates was Killian’s desire for increased training in an effort to lessen stressful and sometimes traumatic interactions with possible law breakers, as opposed to Allen’s firmer stance that officers have the often-difficult job of enforcing the law, and it is not always easy or nice.
Killian said officers are there to enforce the law, but still treat people like human beings, which where, he reiterated, he believes training, such as in de-escalation tactics, is essential.
“I don’t like that,” said Allen. “As a sheriff you take an oath to enforce the law. You can go to some cities and do anything you want because they have a policy they are not going to prosecute shoplifting. What’s next? Not going to stop you from popping off a few rounds through your window? It’s our job to enforce the law, and that’s not always fun. We have a generation that doesn’t obey the law, and think they are not going to be held accountable. And that’s not racist, it’s enforcing the law.”
Asked about priorities, both men immediately mentioned getting the jails fully staffed, followed by offering additional services for those in jail, from churches to mental health and drug addiction services.