In the 2022 race for Lee County Sheriff, incumbent interim Sheriff Brian Estes, a Republican, will face Democratic challenger Carlton Lyles. Estes was appointed to fill the unexpired term of former Republican Sheriff Tracy Carter. Both Estes and Lyles served high ranking roles in Carter’s administration. These answers were published unedited and as received from the candidates in the September and October editions of The Rant Monthly.
In person early voting begins on Thursday at the Lee County Board of Elections at 1503 Elm St. or the McSwain Center at 2420 Tramway Road. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday between Oct. 20 and Nov. 4. In person early voting will also be available from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29 and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5. Election Day is Nov. 8. For information about absentee ballots, click here.
Please introduce yourself and describe your qualifications for office:
ESTES: My name is Brian Estes. I am a lifelong resident of Lee County, where I reside with my wife Ashley and son Corbin. I started my career in Law Enforcement with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in 2002. There are many reasons I am running to be YOUR Sheriff. I believe in protecting our Constitutional and God given rights.
My badge not only identifies me as the Sheriff, it also represents the oath of office, serving as a constant reminder of the values and principles I hold very dearly.
Over the last 20 years I have worked in every capacity in the Sheriff’s Office as I served as a Bailiff, Patrol Deputy, Domestic Violence Investigator, Criminal Investigator, Narcotic Agent, Task Force Officer/Homeland Security, Captain of Professional Standards, and now as YOUR Sheriff. I was appointed Sheriff after being recommended by retired Sheriff Tracy Carter and being voted unanimously by the County Commissioners.
Since being employed with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, I have continued my education. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice. I have completed hours of training that have afforded me an Advanced Law Enforcement Certificate from the NC Sheriff’s Education and Training Standards Commission. I am the first Lee County Deputy in the history of the Sheriff’s Office to be accepted and to attend the FBI National Academy. I am a General and Specialized Physical Fitness Instructor and I enjoy teaching in the Basic Law Enforcement Training Program at Central Carolina Community College.
I have developed relationships and partnerships with the citizens by being involved with community events, fundraisers for those in need, and educating our children to make good decisions.
I am the only certified Law Enforcement Officer running to be YOUR Sheriff. I feel that my training and experience best qualify me for the opportunity to ask you for your vote to continue to be YOUR Sheriff. I am 100 percent invested in Lee County and the future of the Sheriff’s Office, and with your support, I will be for many years to come.
LYLES: I was born and raised in Lee County. I retired from the US Army. Although I have traveled to many places, I came back home because I love my hometown. I have 26 years of Law Enforcement Experience including the Sanford Police Department, School Resource Officer for Lee County Schools and I was a Major over Field Operations for the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. These experiences taught me how to interact with Lee County Citizens, young and old. I believe in transparency, integrity, and ethics to gain the trust and confidence of the community.
Discuss your top two or three priorities for enforcement that you believe will result in a safer community:
ESTES: Public Safety and the protection of all Lee County Residents is vital. With the current trend of population growth Lee County is seeing, we need to have a realistic plan to grow the Sheriff’s Office. I have restructured our Patrol Division to place more Deputies on each shift. This will help reduce response times and help reduce property crimes. Having more Deputies on each shift will also help keep our Deputies safe. Making sure these Deputies have the best training possible will ensure that the citizens receive top level professional Law Enforcement.
The enforcement of the distribution of Narcotics will continue to be a very high priority.
We have also implemented programs in our Jail to inmates to educate, build confidence, and provide life skills to aid in reentering society and decrease the probability that they will reoffend in the future.
Community involvement is imperative for success. I have been involved in meetings with County officials and Community stakeholders on new ideas to help combat Mental Illness in Lee County. Our Community involvement will help make a safer Community for all.
LYLES: There are three areas of concern that would be priorities for me as sheriff. Each of these priorities would work to improve the relationship between the Sherriff’s Office personnel and the community:
1) Community policing which involves being present in the community before there is a crisis. This will require deputies to meet, greet, and mingle with the residents in the areas they patrol.
2) I believe that our county has been plagued by the national trend involving drug abuse. Educational programs, prevention strategies, and responding appropriately to addiction has to be a priority for the Department. This also coincides with my third priority.
3) Our officers need to be trained to handle mental health issues. They need the resources to minimize the harmful outcomes when mental illness causes criminal behavior.
I am convinced that these three priorities will help to make our community safer. While I am tough on crime, not all offenders need to go to jail and we need programs that prevent criminal behavior and will provide treatment for the mentally ill and addicted.
Have you signed any pledges or promises to outside groups or individuals in exchange for an endorsement? If so, please describe them.
ESTES: No, the only promise I have made is to the citizens to do the best job I can as YOUR Sheriff.
The Sheriff’s Office budget has expanded significantly in recent years, not only in dollars, but also as a percentage of overall county spending (the office, for example, accounted for 6.9 percent of the county’s budget in FY2011-12, and 10.5 percent in the current fiscal year). How will you ensure these funds are spent as wisely as possible, and what percentage of overall county spending do you think is an ideal number with regards to public safety?
ESTES: The expansion of the budget in recent years is partly due to assuming responsibility for the security of our Schools in Lee County. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office started providing security for all of the Schools in 2014 and we now are very fortunate to have 18 School Resource Officers, which allows us to have a Deputy in every school. The continuation of providing a safe learning environment for our teachers and Lee County students is a top priority.
Also, the inflation of items such as fuel, equipment for Deputies, and vehicle expenditures play a part in the overall cost of day to day operations. Items such as body cameras and the expenses associated with storage, have added additional cost.
The Sheriff’s Office works very closely with the Lee County Finance Office, with many checks and balances in place, to ensure that appropriated funds are spent most efficiently.
As we continue to see growth in Lee County, our Lee County Sheriff’s Office will also grow. I do not think there is an ideal number or a price tag you can put on public safety.
LYLES: It would be to sit down with the Sherrif’s Department administrative/ Finance team and the county to examine the budget and ensure that we are utilizing all funds in the appropriate areas. Right now it’s difficult to determine an optimal overall percentage of spending for public safety, but I would strongly advocate for a number that would ensure we have the resources necessary to protect all of our citizens.
There’s been a documented shortage of law enforcement officers and other first responders nationwide. How will you ensure you have enough deputies to address the many enforcement issues facing communities in Lee County?
ESTES: Having enough staff to safely protect our citizens is essential. The recruitment of employees is very important as is the retention of our current and future staff. The Safety and wellness of our Deputies is especially important to me with the vigorous demands they face on a daily basis.
Providing staff with good training, equipment, and a competitive and fair compensation is needed to ensure longevity of our employees.
As YOUR Sheriff I will continue to lead our Office from the front and allow the Deputies to do their jobs to provide Professional, Accountable, and Effective Law Enforcement. We need a strong leader as Sheriff that will never waiver from making the right decisions and that will stand up for the Deputies when they lawfully do their jobs. We need a Sheriff that will continue to work with the Community to make Lee County a great place to live and work, and this is one of the many reasons I am running for Sheriff.
I am 100 % dedicated to the employees at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. We are a family and I personally care about each and every employee.
LYLES: Unfortunately, Lee County shares the same issues that other municipalities have in recruiting dedicated professionals to law enforcement.
I would work hard to ensure that the Sheriff’s Department enhances our recruiting efforts by utilizing resources that make us more visible to the next generation of law enforcement officers. We need a stronger presence on social media and other channels of engagement to ensure we are reaching anyone who may be interested in a career with our department.
Also included with that, we need to make sure that our salary and benefits are comparable with other departments our size so that we can remain competitive in the marketplace for the best officers to serve the citizens of Lee County.