RALEIGH — On Aug. 15, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced several appointments to various boards and commissions, including that of Durham Sheriff Clarence Birkhead to the Governor’s Crime Commission.
“I am again humbled by Gov. Cooper’s appointment and will be honored to serve and represent Durham County in this way,” Birkhead said in a statement. “One of my top priorities leading law enforcement here in Durham County is to ensure our local voices are being heard. This statewide appointment means we have a great opportunity to make our community better by having a seat at the table to effect change. Looking at the larger picture, this appointment also gives us a chance to help innovate and reform the criminal justice system.”
According to Birkhead’s statement, he has been assigned to the Criminal Justice Improvement Committee (CJI) which will approve “priorities” and review applications for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program.
Cooper also appointed Andrew D. Hendry of Pinehurst as a citizen at-large and Sheriff Calvin L. Woodard, Jr. of Wilson to the commission.
Cooper’s appointment of Birkhead comes following a report earlier this year by Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews showing a low rate of only one out of 11 homicide cases being closed as well as a 57% increase in homicides and 8 increase in violent crime year-over-year.
Crime statistics published by the City of Durham show an increase in violent crime, including shootings. Meanwhile, the Durham Police Department reports a staffing gap of 436 sworn positions filled out of 549 as of Aug. 1.
Birkhead has been involved in law enforcement for around 38 years, including work at the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office and 17 years at the Duke University Public Safety Department serving as Chief of Police from 1998 to 2005. From 2005 to 2010, Birkhead took on the role of Chief of Police for the town of Hillsborough in Orange County before being elected Durham County Sheriff in 2018.
Birkhead, a Democrat, was first elected in 2018 after running unopposed and is seeking reelection this fall against Maria Jocys.
Jocys’ law enforcement career includes 24 years with the FBI in global counterterrorism, five years with the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force targeting criminal street gangs in Durham and she was the first woman to lead the FBI’s field office in Raleigh. She also spent a number of years with the Greenville Police Department.
In a move similar to that of the state Democratic Party trying to keep the Green Party off the November ballot, in June of this year Birkhead unsuccessfully tried to force Jocys off the ballot by claiming her campaign did not have enough required valid signatures to qualify.
Ultimately, the Durham Board of Elections sided with Jocys and dismissed Birkhead’s complaint, citing he had not produced evidence to back his claim that some 9,000 signatures on Jocys petition should not have been allowed to stand.
Birkhead has also faced criticism for being a “sanctuary sheriff.”
In a 2018 candidate survey, Birkhead stated “I will make a clear and uncompromising commitment to not cooperate with ICE. As sheriff, I will not honor ICE detainers and we will not participate in ICE roundups.” In that same survey, Birkhead said he was “OK” with the federal government criticizing him for not honoring detainers and claimed that “an ICE detainer is merely a request; compliance is voluntary. There’s nothing in the federal law that says I must participate.”
Following his election, Birkhead made good on his prior claims and in 2019 issued a statement that his office would not honor ICE detainers. Birkhead indicated at the time he would be instructing his deputies to release illegal aliens instead of holding them in the Durham County jail for possible deportation by ICE agents.