Newly elected Sheriff Quentin Miller was the guest speaker for the first Leadership Asheville Forum critical issues luncheon of 2019.
He was born and raised in Asheville, and served 11 years in the U.S. Army. Miller and his wife have six children, and have fostered over 100 children in their home since 2005.
As a member of the Asheville Police Department since 1994, he is the recipient of the Officer of the Year Award, and the Overall Regional Award for initiating a street ministry, and midnight basketball program for at risk youth.
Miller retired from the Asheville Police Department last year after 25 years of service, and was elected to the high office of Buncombe County Sheriff in November 2018.
Central to his law enforcement philosophy is what Miller calls the “community of we.” Part of what he talks about at the sheriff’s office is how to adjust their collective mindset from being that of a warrior to that of being a guardian.
“We can no longer do our job alone as law enforcement, we must do this together as part of the community we serve. We must also have input from our community, and to do that we hope to hold town hall meetings with open and honest conversations about what happens and where we go from here,” Miller said.
Areas that Miller is focusing on include the opioid crisis, how to keep the schools safe, and de-escalation training.
“We cannot arrest our way out of the opioid crisis. I look at this crisis as a disease, and I know at times this disease drives folks to committing crimes. We have to help them escape this vicious cycle where we arrest them and they come back to crime, without our addressing the pain and the real cause of the problem.”
Miller likens that approach to people addicted to opiates as applying a mere band aid to a wound.
“I’ve spent almost 10 years with the team at the drug treatment court, and seen many people pass through the system. The thing I see that is consistent is that these are all people that need someone to love and care about them. Some have said that has nothing to do with being a sheriff. Well sure it does, because the people we serve are the little guy to the big guy, and everyone in between. So at the detention center we try to initiate programs and build on programs that currently exist such as job training programs.”
Strategic placement of resource officers helps keep our schools safe.
“We can’t wait for something to happen, we’ve got to be proactive. Part of that is getting parents to participate in school parent-child retreats. Last year with the county commissioners support we sent 100 kids to the cross parenting program, which was very successful. This year we plan to send 200.”
Prior to the election, Miller’s opponent stated that Buncombe County needs an additional detention center to abate overcrowding. Miller instead spoke to the issue of reform in the local bail bond system, and said he would like to do away with it entirely.
“There are a lot of people incarcerated because they don’t have enough money for bail. I’m talking about people who are there for nonviolent violations like speeding or trespassing, and don’t have the financial means to get out. We’re trying to figure out how to achieve pretrial release, or challenge officers how to avoid even bringing them to the detention facility in the first place,” he said.
Miller seeks the public’s participation to accurately assess the county’s needs and bring more diversity to the sheriff’s office personnel profile.
“It’s the whole game starting with who we hire and who we promote," Miller said. "I was surprised at a retreat of officers with sergeants and above. As I looked out at ‘my people,’ there was only one female, four African-Americans, and no Hispanics. I said we have to dial back the hiring process and desperately reach out to the community at town hall meetings to do better, and each part of the county needs to be different because each has different needs.”
Miller said he is often asked what he means when he speaks about de-escalation training.
“We have issues across the United States about how law enforcement engages with people, particularly people of color and the economically disfranchised. For me it’s about how we engage everybody in the ‘community of we’ with dignity and respect regardless of age, color, or sexual orientation. We understand, not only as a county, or as a state, but also as a country that we must now work together to solve our problems. It can’t be about Republicans and Democrats, it’s about doing what’s right for people.”
Miller said at one town hall meeting that he wants to be like the sheriff of Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show.
“I don’t know if you remember this, but Sheriff Andy Taylor didn’t carry a gun, and I don’t carry one either. I haven’t worn one since the election,” he said.