Albemarle County Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding will soon be knocking on doors again.
Harding, a Republican, announced Tuesday his plans to seek re-election for the sheriff’s seat. He was first elected in 2007.
The sheriff said the first time he ran for office, he and his wife, Linda, would go out each night and knock on voters’ doors. They would then meet at the end of the street and count up committed votes.
“When I first ran for the office over four years ago, I stated [my] four primary goals,” Harding said. “Today I am proud that I can report that my team and I have accomplished or made substantive progress on all of them.”
No other candidates had thrown their hat into the race as of Tuesday.
Rachel Schoenewald, chairwoman of the Albemarle County GOP, said no other Republican candidates have expressed interest in the sheriff’s race. Calls and emails to the Albemarle County Democratic Party were not returned on Tuesday.
Harding said that in the last four years, he has grown the department’s volunteer staff into one of the largest in the state.
The Sheriff’s Office currently has 50 reserve deputies who volunteered more than 14,000 hours last year, Harding said.
Along with overseeing the department’s search and rescue and Project Lifesaver programs, volunteers also do a lot of other things that would otherwise have to be done by paid staff or not done at all.
“These volunteer reservists just amaze me every day,” Harding said. “[Volunteers] oversee our website, [provide] traffic control at parades and fundraising events and put on dozens of crime prevention and safety-related classes,” Harding said.
Harding also touted efforts to increase court security, continue department accreditation and create an inmate labor force to complete Charlottesville and county work projects.
It’s an effort Harding said he has worked on since coming to office and hopes to be only “weeks away” from having a final plan in place.
“We need to give incentives for non-violent inmates to come out and work because it would save us tax dollars,” Harding said. “We’re looking at proposing a way we can give [inmates] credit towards court fees and fines at minimum wage for every hour they work. That way government saves money and [inmates will] be able to get their driver’s license and be more likely to get employment when they get out [of jail].”
Harding said he has also established an Internet Crimes Against Children task force in his department and joined the Southern Virginia ICAC to help spread awareness and education.
He also talked about his efforts to promote DNA issues on both the state and national basis and his support of the Innocence Project, a national organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing.
“I’ve had people come up and ask me ‘Sheriff, why do you want to get these guilty people out of jail?’” Harding said. “They don’t understand that we’re trying to get these innocent people out of jail. What DNA is doing is proving that in some cases people are innocent and in other times it reinforces the fact they are guilty.”
If re-elected, Harding said he will continue to build his department.
“We’ve got more to do,” Harding said. “There [are] always ways we can look at to get our reserve division to help the county and help what’s going on.”
Seated alongside Harding when he made the announcement Tuesday were former Sheriffs Edgar S. “Ed” Robb and Terry Hawkins, as well as several other retired law enforcement officers who have mentored Harding over the years.
The election is Nov. 8.