DOBSON — Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson was sworn in last week as president of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association (NCSA).
The ceremony took place during the organization’s annual training conference held July 23-26 in Sunset Beach.
Atkinson has been an active member of NCSA since he was elected sheriff in 2006, and attended association-sponsored events frequently during his 31 years of service to the office.
For the past three years he has held positions on the executive board, most recently as first vice president.
He will serve as president for one year.
“I’m looking forward to it. I am excited,” said Atkinson, who ran unopposed. “I wish that we were in a better environment from a law enforcement standpoint,” he added. “This is probably the most challenging time.”
As president, the sheriff will participate in board decisions, preside over association meetings and represent the group at various functions including the National Sheriffs’ Association.
“We require a lot of responsibility, and I’m sure he can handle it,” Eddie Caldwell, NCSA executive vice-president and general counsel, said of Atkinson.
“He has the proper temperament to carry out the duties of office and represent all 100 sheriffs across the state. He’s calm, thorough in his thought process, inclusive of everyone’s opinions and always come to common sense and practical solutions. And he has a good sense of humor. He doesn’t mind working hard, but he does it with a smile.”
Caldwell added that serving as the NCSA president “is a real accomplishment for him and for Surry County.”
N.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Edmunds Jr., swore Atkinson in, with the sheriff’s wife Melissa, daughter Samantha, and son Hugh holding the bible.
The Surry County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard presented the colors.
Caldwell and several local and state officials attended, including Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-90, and Surry County Commissioner R.F. “Buck” Golding.
The newly inaugurated president explained that “a lot of what the association does is guide legislation that’s good for all people in North Carolina,” particularly legislation involving law enforcement or the criminal justice system.
One issue he may tackle in the upcoming year involves the expansion of the role of state law enforcement.
“I tried to explain this in my remarks,” Atkinson said. “We know law enforcement is under attack in a lot of ways. We’re under attack by evil people, we’re under attack by the media for the actions of individual officers, and we’re under attack at the state level by legislators who are trying to diminish the Constitutional role of the sheriff’s office.”
The sheriff noted that the N.C. Constitution established the office of sheriff to enforce state laws within the confines of the county, and to take that away “is taking away the right of local people to determine how they want to live their lives and to choose who they want as their chief law enforcement.”
Examples of this types of legislation include last year’s changes to firearm laws that eliminated some of the sheriff’s office discretion with weapon permits and a proposed law that would allow private process servers.
“We will be working really hard to prevent legislation such as that from going any further, and to reverse the effects we’ve already seen,” Atkinson said, adding that the NCSA had vocally supported the “bathroom” aspects of HB2 and a recently passed law limiting the public’s access to body-worn and dash cam video footage.
At the training conference, the official agenda included training on new laws and the effect of recent court cases on existing laws.
An explanation of the body-worn and dashboard camera video law was one of the “big topics,” Atkinson said, along with information regarding the association’s money-saving vehicle procurement program.
But recent attacks on police officers in other areas of the country hung heavy on the minds of the officers who attended the annual training event.
“That was the conversation that took place outside the classroom,” Atkinson said. “There was a little more serious tone to the conference this year than normal,” with an unprecedented degree of security presence, he said. “It’s sad,” he said.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.