Sheriff With a Vision

Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough of Forsyth County

Bobby Kimbrough, Jr. has faced a number of challenges in his life. In 2005 he lost his wife, and has since raised their seven sons alone. In 2018, after retiring as a special agent with the D.E.A., he challenged a popular incumbent, and became the first African American ever elected Sheriff in Forsyth County. And in 2020, he has helped to keep order at a time when two diseases, COVID and racism, have overtaken our society. Today, Kimbrough oversees a department with 600 employees including over 230 sworn deputies. Bobby was a guest on my Triad Today program recently, and we talked about law enforcement and race relations.

 


Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough of Forsyth County

JL: You wrote “Surviving the Stop” in 2016. What kind of information do you offer in the book, and is it still relevant today?

BK: Oh, very relevant. The book is a thumbnail sketch of how you should interact with police when being stopped on the side of the road, and how you interact with police in situations that could save lives. Because it’s a relationship that can take place quickly, and depending on how it takes place, determines the outcome.

JL: In the book, you wrote, “Police don’t leave work in the morning planning to kill an African American.” Do you still believe that? And, if so, how do you account for so many recent incidents of excessive force?

BK: I don’t think police wake up with the intent of killing someone, but sometimes there are people who work in law enforcement who have racial issues, racism. And so the slightest interaction with the public can trigger all those things that have been dormant, and comes to the surface. Because how I see you will determine how I respond to you.

JL: And somewhat ironically, African American officers will tell you that for Black folks who don’t like police, it’s the uniform they see, not the skin color of the officer.

BK: Of course because their brush is painted so broad that one incident or two or three incidents affects all of us who carry a shield, whether it’s a gold badge, federal badge, local or state. It affects all of us.

JL: Some cities are considering whether or not to defund or dismantle their police departments. Is that the best way to weed out bad officers?

BK: I don’t think we need to defund. I think we need to re-construct, re-configure, re-tool things. But how are we going to defund an organization that is already underfunded? We need to have more funding in law enforcement to pay for better training. An example is the Federal government. Every 5 years they re-investigate their agents. They send them back through the same process that they do when they hire them. Local and state governments don’t do that because of lack of funding. So I think that more funding would help us hire and keep better officers, and also assure more quality control.

JL: More and more leaders are calling for a national registry that would weed out officers who have a history of excessive force. If that happens, then those officers would not be able to get hired by any other law enforcement agency. Good idea?

BK: In every state the top law enforcement official is the Attorney General. In order for a registry to work it has to have some teeth, in other words it has to be mandated. not a registry that is optional. So for example if there is a complaint against an officer, it must be registered with the AG’s office. That way, it’s a law and the incident is documented. And if it gets to a point where your agency has so many complaints, then we notify your agency. And also, if that officer leaves, anyone wishing to hire that person would have to check with the AG’s office to see if there have been any complaints.

JL: There have also been some localities who want to defund their School Resource Officer program. What are your thoughts on that?

BK: I understand people talk about the school to prison pipeline, I get that. But there are so many things that go into that. It has a lot to do with how the children in our schools are being educated, how well they read. All of these things are factored in. But when it comes to school resource officers, the program that we have built in Forsyth county, matches our officers with their school, because each school has a different personality. We’ve also changed the SRO uniform. We also have all of our staff volunteering in schools across the County. I teach a class every Thursday, and I am grateful that the Superintendent allows me to do that.

JL: You are a Sheriff elected by the people. You are a man of color. You are the father of 7 sons. Given what we’ve been going though in this country lately, are you at all conflicted by any of those roles in your own life every day?

BK: I’ve cried a lot over the last couple of months because I’m hurt by what I see. We as a country have got to remove some of the barriers, remove some of the stigmas, remove some of the racism, and realize that we’re in this together. Both of the Pandemics we’re experiencing are contagious, and both are lethal, and we need each other. So the words I say to my sons is we have to remove the racism. It’s 2020 and we’ve got to do some things totally different. You and I just talked about why all of these things are happening now. Maybe it’s causing us to see things from a different vantage point. Think about it: 2020 also relates to eyesight.



 

Despite recent events, Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough’s vision for the future is clear and hopeful, and that should give us comfort in these uncertain times.

 
 

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