Forsyth County Sheriff Reflects On First Year In Office, Lays Out Plans

Forsyth County Sheriff Reflects On First Year In Office, Lays Out Plans

6:00am Jan 24, 2020
Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough prepares for his weekly podcast. The room where he records is housed in the agency's administrative office building in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina. KERI BROWN/WFDD

It’s been a year since Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough was sworn into office. He’s the first black person to hold the position in the county’s 170-year history. Kimbrough was part of a record wave of Democratic black sheriffs in the state elected in 2018. It made national headlines and brought conversations about policies on immigration and race to the forefront.

With a year under his belt, Kimbrough’s hit the ground running. WFDD’s Keri Brown walked through the halls with him to get a closer look at his day-to-day at the sheriff’s office in downtown Winston-Salem.

It's a busy weekday at the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office. Kimbrough stops to open the door of a mini-studio where he records a weekly podcast.

“I’m so proud of this room. This is where the magic takes place off the cuffs. Right here in the podcast room. Meet us at the table,” he says.

Kimbrough’s podcast focuses on several topics, anything from healthcare to discussions about racism. He also holds quarterly town hall meetings. It’s all about connection for him, and he wants to address issues that are normally discussed behind closed doors.

One of his priorities is addressing the opioid epidemic.

“It is very near and dear to me not only because I lost my spouse, my wife to it. But it’s near and dear to me because I see first hand what it does. Prior to being sheriff, I was a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration DEA for the Department of Justice, so I saw first hand the effects of opioids drugs. I know it’s at the root of a lot of problems, social problems, social ills in the community," he says.

When asked what his office is doing to address the issue, Kimbrough adds, "We are partnering with state, local and federal agencies to combat this. We have created partnerships with the Winston-Salem Police Department. If you look at the stats on our website, you will see the amount of drugs we have taken off of the street, weapons and everything that’s tied to that trade, so it’s truly one of our strongest initiatives.”

Before Kimbrough became sheriff, he was retired and had served in a number of law enforcement roles. The Democrat from Clemmons says he ran for office because he felt his work wasn’t finished. He grew up in Winston-Salem and knows the area like the back of his hand.

One of his biggest challenges, though, is keeping up with all of the growth in the county.

“We have a strategic plan for every year that we remain here. One thing I’m excited about is that we introduced our I-Team out on interstate 40 and 52 where our cars are slowing the traffic down, monitoring the motorists. In the spring of the year, we will be launching our motorcycle unit. We are creating new positions to keep up with the changing times.”

Kimbrough’s first year in office has also come under scrutiny. He was among a group of Democratic sheriffs that opposed House Bill 370 — a measure that would force his office to work with federal agents to detain immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally.

Currently, compliance is optional with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Kimbrough says his office is upholding the law. He points out that he’s applying the same policy used by the former administration since 2017 and taking legal advice on the issue from the same county attorney.  

“We work with Immigrations [and Customs Enforcement]. I don’t want anyone to think the sheriff’s office doesn’t work with them. In fact, we have a task force that works with them. I think that people misunderstand what we say when we have taken a stance on some things. All we ask is that cover us while we will cover you. In other words, if you want me to house someone then have it signed by a U.S. judge or magistrate. That’s not asking for much," Kimbrough says.

He adds, "I have children here, children that go to school here and for people to think I would put my children, my family, the citizen at risk for something like that is foolish. And I get irritated when people say you know he’s a sanctuary sheriff, he’s an urban sheriff, he’s a black sheriff. No, I’m not. I’m the sheriff without the adjectives.”

Kimbrough says another important issue on his list: improving security in schools. The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with the local school district for some new initiatives. Those include more student resource officer presence on campus at high schools and acquiring new software for better surveillance.

The 58-year-old father of seven says he hopes his time as sheriff will leave a lasting impact.

“I want to be the sheriff of the people where I bring people together, where we change lives. To where people look forward to moving here, that people know that we have community credibility, that they know that when we stop them or our people stop them that we are fair. And I love this place and I love the job and I want to say that I’m grateful that the people gave me an opportunity to serve as their sheriff."

For Now, Kimbrough says he’s embracing his new extended family – and it’s growing. The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office has increased staff by three-dozen since he took office and now employs more than 600 people.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

 

 

 

 

 

Support your
public radio station