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Onslow sheriff candidate’s plan to bridge communities after year of police tension

Col. Chris Thomas (R) announced over the weekend he will run for sheriff of Onslow County. Current Sheriff Hans Miller will not seek re-election and will endorse Thomas, instead.
Published: Mar. 8, 2021 at 7:06 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 8, 2021 at 7:08 PM EST
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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - It’s been a year of tension between communities of color and law enforcement, and the first candidate to enter the race for sheriff of Onslow County is making bridging that divide a cornerstone of his campaign.

“My passion is law enforcement, it always has been,” said Col. Chris Thomas (R), who announced over the weekend he will run for sheriff in 2022. “Accountability is very important to me, we’re here to help the public. We’re here to serve the public and that’s all the public.”

Thomas, a Jacksonville native, has spent 34 years as a law enforcement officer from his beginnings with the Pender County Sheriff’s Office all the way to the State Bureau of Investigation.

“Things have changed a lot,” Thomas said. “A lot of this technology and stuff wasn’t there when I started, it didn’t even exist. So, things have changed quite a bit, especially with the way information is spread these days. That’s why I like things like body cameras, I like that idea because it’s a good witness.”

He’s running after a year of heightened tension between black and brown communities and law enforcement, largely because of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Floyd’s death sparked a summer of violent protests nationwide.

“Once the community is more comfortable and they feel like they’re getting equitable policing, then they can better trust law enforcement,” said Onslow County NAACP President Donald Cohen.

It’s a series of understandings that haven’t been built, Cohen said.

Col. Thomas’ plan to fix that? An expansion of a program to put deputies into underserved communities to build relationships.

“Sometimes a law enforcement officer walks up and people have an opinion without getting to know them,” said Thomas. “There’s an individual behind every badge.”

“I think people in minority communities, communities of color, they often feel like they’re not viewed on an individual level, as a human as a person,” said Cohen. “That they’re dealt with as a situation.”

It’s a cornerstone of Thomas’ campaign to build up trust with black and brown communities and play a part to easing the tensions on both sides. Community leaders agree it’s a good start.

“There’s going to be a lot of pressure after this next election for whoever gets in there to preemptively show that they are a friend of the people,” said Melvin Euring, the Vice President of the Onslow County NAACP. “It’s not new. It’s not rocket science. We just have to get to the right thing.”

No other candidates have announced their intention to run for the position.

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