Former Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes may have lost the election in November, but he certainly hasn’t lost his desire to engage in the public debate on law enforcement matters.
On Thursday night, Jan. 10, Barnes put up a Facebook post now being referred to by many as his “Hug a Thug post” in which he cautioned local and state leaders not to coddle criminals and he also expressed serious concerns about Cure Violence – a proposed program that originated in Chicago and that employs ex-felons to reduce violence in urban areas.
Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers has been a big advocate for Cure Violence.
Barnes’ post, which got quite a reaction with nearly 50 comments and 100 shares by Friday afternoon, questioned whether Cure Violence is effective, and the post also takes some jabs at Rogers and his actions in his first month as sheriff. Barnes’ “Hug a Thug” terminology refers to a recent jail tour by the new sheriff in which Rogers consoled, advised and hugged inmates.
Barnes said this isn’t a case of a sore loser complaining about the winner but instead is a case of someone, who’s spent his whole life in law enforcement and is now concerned about the direction of the department he oversaw for 24 years. He said his concerns don’t just pertain to Rogers and Guilford County, but instead apply to misguided liberal law enforcement policies that he sees being advocated all up and down the political chain.
In his Facebook post, Barnes wrote: “Hug a Thug seems to be the prevailing sentiment with some of our local, state and federal elected officials. While I believe in second chances, they should be earned, not given out without being accountable for their actions. We now have a sheriff who is going into the jail hugging the prisoners and that’s fine, I hope it helps, but he and others on the city council and county commission are promoting a program called Cure Violence.”
Barnes went on to state some of his many “questions and concerns” regarding Cure Violence.
He said this week that one reason he put up the post is that Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston, who has been pushing hard for the program, is telling people Barnes is in favor of implementing it in Guilford County when in reality the former sheriff has very serious doubts about the program.
“Skip says I’m 100 percent behind it but that’s not the case,” Barnes said.
Barnes said on Friday that he’s researched the program and spoken with other law enforcement officials about it and he can’t find any evidence that Cure Violence works. He said that, after the program was established in Durham County, the murder rate there went up about 40 percent over a 6-month period.
Barnes also said it’s very expensive. The current proposal calls for the City of Greensboro and Guilford County to pay $300,000 each to get the program in place and there would be recurring costs at that level each year as well.
“It may be a good program but I’m not sure we need to be paying $600,000 for it,” the former sheriff said.
He added that he’s also concerned about the fact that the program might be placed administratively under One Step Further, a non-profit run by Greensboro City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson.
Since part – or perhaps even all – of the funding for Cure Violence may come from the Greensboro City Council that Johnson serves on, there could be a conflict of interest.
He said another concern is that Cure Violence is a program where paid former criminals called “interrupters” are in the street trying to stop violence.
“They do not have any connection to law enforcement except to get info FROM law enforcement, giving them nothing,” Barnes’ posted on Facebook. “They have this program in Durham [and] they have had an increase in violent crime this last year. I researched the program before leaving office and had a couple pages of questions and concerns which I sent to the commissioners who requested it.”
The Greensboro City Council and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners continue to debate funding a Cure Violence initiative in Guilford County.