For the first time in decades, Albemarle County voters on June 11 will get to decide which Democratic candidate will compete to be the county sheriff through a primary election.
Two candidates are vying for the party’s nomination for the Nov. 5 general election ballot that will elect a replacement for Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding, who announced his retirement in January.
Harding, a Republican who served 30 years with the Charlottesville Police Department, was first elected Albemarle sheriff in 2007.
Harding’s chief deputy, Chanses R. “Chan” Bryant, will face off in the party vote with Patrick Estes, regional director for RMC Events, which provides security at University of Virginia and other events around Charlottesville and across the state.
Estes is a former UVa football player who played professionally with the San Francisco 49ers and served in law enforcement in California, including working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Bryant has been in regional law enforcement for 20 years, the last 13 with the county sheriff’s office, leading search and rescue teams and writing grants for the department.
“The chief deputy is the sheriff’s office second-in-command with duties and responsibilities that include overseeing the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office, preparing the annual sheriff’s office budget, [serving as] acting sheriff in Sheriff Harding’s absence and many other duties,” Bryant said. “I am ready to lead from Day One.”
Estes noted that he brings experience in patrol, undercover operations, field training and has served as a narcotics detective, in tactical operations, human trafficking investigations, protecting dignitaries and in special events. He current supervises a staff of 500 private security officers.
“I also bring a diverse set of experiences, having played football for UVa and in the NFL before finding my passion for law enforcement,” Estes said. “Through these experiences, I understand the importance of hard work and the team concept, which can be applied to many other areas in life when pursuing a common goal: community safety.”
Both Estes and Bryant believe the sheriff’s office should expand efforts in connecting with the citizens and community it serves. Bryant advocates for the office being active in the county’s different communities, and Estes recommends developing a citizens advisory panel.
“A citizens advisory panel is a significant way for the public to engage in dialogue which promotes conversations that can lead us to both transparency and increased community safety, which is my goal,” Estes said.
“[We can] build communities of trust [by] focusing on strengthening and building positive relationships between public safety agencies and the diverse communities we serve, participating in neighborhood gatherings to engage with people of all colors, religions and cultures,” Bryant said.
Bryant said she would continue and expand existing departmental efforts, including the lunch buddy program that bring deputies into county schools, the DARE program and efforts that focus on senior citizen safety. Programs offered by volunteer officers, including firearm safety training, would continue to be operated at no taxpayer expense.
Estes said programs such as Every 15 Minutes, which addresses alcohol abuse and driving under the influence, can teach about DUI and distracted driving. He said the department could partner with other agencies and local organizations to improve gun safety and promote gun lock and gun safe programs, as well as provide drug education and address mental health issues.
He also said he would focus on a team approach to law enforcement, both in the agency and with other agencies.
“The need for regional responses to policing and our county’s needs tie directly to two core tenets of my platform — a team approach and community engagement,” Estes said. “Law enforcement should not provide overlapping services, but instead encourage synergistic relationships that are efficient, effective and accountable to the residents of Albemarle.”
Bryant said it has been a mission of hers as chief deputy to improve training for deputies, such as with emergency response and Spanish language courses.
“I will continue bringing diversity into the agency and hiring candidates that have a dedication of service, human relations skills, team compatibility and excellence-driven deputies. The welfare of both the office and the community hinges on the ability to recruit, retain and continually develop its deputies,” Bryant said.
Bryant said being a lifelong resident of the region is a plus for a county sheriff.
“I have forged lasting bonds with many different communities in Albemarle County and know the area’s needs,” she said. “I have worked with numerous neighboring jurisdictions, our schools and our courts to ensure the safety of Albemarle’s residents. I have taken the time over the last 20 years listening to my neighbors, friends and fellow residents’ concerns and will put that knowledge to work for all.”
Estes said a change in leadership can prove beneficial to the community.
“Keeping the same leadership and ideas does not improve safety nor does it give citizens a chance to voice their opinion of what this office should be,” he said. “That is why I’ve held so many open events, meet-and-greet opportunities and I am ready to participate in public forums, to allow residents to hear what an open, transparent platform can be.”
The two Democrats so far face no opposition from the Republican Party, as retired Albemarle County Lt. Mike Wagner, who had announced a campaign, took a position as chief of the Siler City, North Carolina, police department. His election committee is now listed as inactive.
Louisa Police Chief Ronnie Roberts, who also served several decades with the Charlottesville Police Department, has announced his bid for the office, but he is running as an independent and will not be in the June 11 primary.