Posted on: 11.6.2018 at 11:11 p.m.
UPDATED: 1:17 p.m.
Republican challenger Jody Greene appears to have won a hard fought race for Columbus County Sheriff, defeating incumbent Democrat Lewis Hatcher 9,353 to 9,301 votes.
Provisional ballots cast by voters after 7:30 p.m. will be counted on Canvass Day. Elections Supervisor Carla Strickland said Wednesday a total of 150 provisional votes remain to be counted.
Both Hatcher and Greene are career law enforcement officers, with the Highway Patrol.
Greene is currently a First Sergeant with the Patrol, but served as a narcotics detective and Canine Officer with the sheriff’s department from 1991 until 1995. Prior to that, Greene was with the Chadbourn Police. He lives in Evergreen.
Hatcher also has a long career in law enforcement, having started his 43 years behind the badge with the Clarkton Police after his discharge from the U.S. Army. After four years with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, he went to work for the Highway Patrol for 26 years. Hatcher retired from the NCSHP to go to work as chief deputy for then-Sheriff Chris Batten, a post he held for seven years. When Batten retired in 2014, Hatcher was appointed interim sheriff, and in November of the same year won his first election to the office.
Greene campaigned on a plan to combine community policing with “focused deterrence” strategies, which focuses on repeat offenders and gangs. He pledged to increase cooperation with the school system, encouraging relationships with students and faculty, as well as making better use of security technology.
He also said he plans to re-emphasize training, and making sure officers “fit” with their assignments. He also plans to work with the county to improve salaries and increase retention of officers.
Hatcher has sparred with county commissioners for most of his time in office over retention, salaries and equipment. Prior to the election, Hatcher said his plans included enforcement of drug and property crime laws, and working with other agencies to come up with alternatives to incarcerating addicts, thus reducing overall property crime. He pointed to the creation of CCOAT (Columbus County Opioid Action Team), a coalition of the Sheriff’s Office, health department, and schools as one way officials are combating opioid abuse in the county.
He also said that increasing salaries and providing more manpower on the streets are vital for protection of the county, and said proper management of budgeted resources and additional grants can help add positions and increase pay for deputies.