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Hagaman Seeking Fourth Term as Watauga County Sheriff, Faces Challenge From Republican David Searcy

By Nathan Ham

Watauga County Sheriff Len “L.D.” Hagaman, who has served as sheriff for 12 years, is being opposed by Republican challenger David Searcy in the 2018 election.

Hagaman, a Watauga County native and military veteran, graduated from Watauga High School and then went on to receive degrees from Wingate University and Appalachian State University. He has served three terms as sheriff and previously served as a Watauga County Commissioner and was the Town Manager of Boone.

Sheriff Hagaman has held many positions within the law enforcement community serving as a Watauga County Sheriff’s Deputy, and as a Patrol Officer, Juvenile Officer, Crime Prevention Officer; Criminal Investigator, Supervisor, and finally appointed Major/Police Administrator with the Boone Police Department. He was also a certified Law Enforcement instructor with Wilkes Mayland, and Caldwell Community and has taught at Fayetteville Technical, and Western Piedmont Community College. Hagaman spent time teaching undergraduate and graduate Public Administration/Political Science courses for Appalachian State University. He is also a certified Vulnerability/Terrorism Assessor for the Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Homeland Security.

“For the past 12 years I am daily humbled and honored to note that your sheriff’s office is one of the first to be looked at by the other 99 sheriff’s offices in North Carolina for our innovation, our cooperation, our guidance and advice,” Hagaman said. “I’m proud to serve all and I would be honored and blessed to continue to be your sheriff.”

Searcy, who grew up in Catawba County, graduated from Bandys High School and Haywood Community College, has called Watauga County home for the previous 26 years, serving as a member of the North Carolina Highway Patrol. Searcy will retire at the end of 2018 with 30 years of service.

Searcy, his wife Missy and daughter Megan are members at Laurel Fork Baptist Church. He has spent time as a volunteer at the Grandfather Home for Children in Avery County and is an active member of the Masonic Lodge in Boone. Searcy served as the president of the Appalachian Shriners chapter.

“I truly feel that when we can improve the lives and safety of our most vulnerable members in our communities, then we have improved the safety for all of us,” said Searcy. “I am honored and it has been a privilege to have been able to serve you all as a North Carolina State Trooper here in this county and I would like to continue to serve the people in Watauga County as sheriff here.”

On the Issues

Len Hagaman (D)

Domestic violence: “When I first was elected, the domestic violence rate had gone up 68 percent. Part of that was because laws have changed to allow folks to report in a more timely manner and it also instructed that in a domestic violence situation where there’s an injury, somebody is going to go to jail. This has not gone away, we still have problems with domestic violence. We have a fulltime, dedicated officer for the domestic violence unit and one half position as well.”

Methamphetamine usage: “We led the state unfortunately for many years in meth labs. Unfortunately it’s so much easier to buy methamphetamine off the streets. 55 percent of the folks that are incarcerated here in Watauga County, the drug of choice is methamphetamine. “We are currently working with our federal and state partners, we do have task forces, so it is being addressed.”

Substance abuse: “The folks that are coming into our system are physically, mentally and socially behind. We now have a process where we can identify those folks coming into the system that do have substance abuse problems and try to reduce the number of times they are being brought into the detention center. 90 percent of those that are in the detention center are there for substance abuse. We are working on that and will continue to work on that.”

School resource officer training: “An SRO walks a fine line sometimes between administration and law enforcement and in that fine line, they have to be able to talk to administration, talk to students, talk to staff, so it does take a special kind of person to do that and specialized training addresses that.”

Administration duties: “Watauga County spends $6.4 million in the sheriff’s office and detention. There are a lot of things that go along with that. Detention is a very high liability for the sheriff and the county. They are in our care, these are our citizens that we must take care of. It’s expensive and it does take a lot of administration.”

Successes within the sheriff’s office: “11 years ago, we set up “Operation Medicine Cabinet,” which basically takes medicines that don’t break down in the environment out if the surface and ground waters, along with keeping these medicines off of the streets. The program was so successful that the State of NC used it as the model/template for their statewide initiative. Another program was the implementation if our “POP” (Problem Oriented Policing) Unit. The main focus of this program is to deploy deputies in areas that need a longer and task oriented attention to specific areas. Most recently is their concentration in an area where increased criminal activity has taken place. The Unit has involved and included the entire neighborhood and surrounding properties resulting in a very positive outcome which has reduced crime in this area. Yet another successful program is the establishment of the “Rescue Task Force:” which involves the deployment of key and highly trained EMS and Fire personnel in an active, yet “warm” (not hot) danger area(s) to quickly treat and remove the injured from these high risk areas. This was a being a new concept and was readily accepted by our local volunteer fire and rescue/EMS partners as an enhancement of our Active Shooter Training. This program is designed to treat injured victims who might “bleed out,” in such events of threat. This training and curriculum was developed by a Watauga County Deputy and is now the training that is given to other Rescue Task Force’s/First Responder’s on a statewide basis.”

David Searcy (R)

Domestic violence: “I would like to implement the 24/7 Domestic Violence Plan that originated in the Midwest in 2006. This plan places the responsibility on the violator. After a conviction in court, the violator is required to report to the Sheriff’s Department every morning to take either an alcohol screening test or a drug test. If a positive result is obtained, then the sentence handed down by the court system is automatically enacted.” 

Increased officer presence in schools: “I intend to accomplish this by using reserve officers who still hold a valid certification from the North Carolina Training and Standards Commission. Our county commissioners will need to be involved in this process also. Other counties utilize a reserve force and there is no reason we should not be doing the same until I have an opportunity to see the budget. At that time, it can be decided if it is best to have an increased budget or locate grant monies to place full time resource officers in our schools.”

At-risk youth: “I would like to help children and young teens who are at risk for entering a cycle of drug abuse, violence, and crime. First, By identifying these children from the domestic violence program mentioned above. A program I am interested in was developed in Tennessee and I am in touch with the person that developed it. He has volunteered to help get the program started in our communities. Secondly, the Department of Social Services is looking at starting a Safe Kids Program. I have talked with several people that have been involved in a meeting where this program has been discussed. By combining these two programs, our At Risk Youth Program can be more successful.”

Drug enforcement: “I am not going to release a lot of information on this topic due to undercover operations which it involves. I will say that advanced training tactics, increased communication between officers and other agencies, and community involvement will be initiated and improved. We do have a drug problem here in Watauga County. I worked a case on my own time that involved two other counties for just under 1 and a half years until the Department of Homeland Security was able to take over the case. This is a testament to the commitment I have in reducing the drug problem we face in this county.”

Reduction of neighborhood crime: “Our officers will have a greater presence in our communities as well as on the main roads, looking for drug violations and wanted individuals. This will be accomplished by advanced training tactics that will allow the officers to better manage their time between the two duties. I would like to see the officers getting to know the citizens in the different communities in the county. I would like to start groups in every community that I can meet with on a bi-monthly basis to learn of their needs and concerns. I have worked in this county for 27 years and realize that the needs in each community are unique to that specific area.”

Inmate programs: “I would like to start mentoring programs in the jail for inmates. This will include recovering addicts talking to inmates to help overcome drug dependencies. I am also interested in women who have been in and abusive relationships mentoring to female inmates. I have several people that have volunteered to start this program as soon as we take office.”

Video of responses from Hagaman and Searcy during Tuesday’s Meet the Candidates Forum can be found below.