BEAUFORT — County Sheriff Asa Buck marked a milestone earlier this month. He’s served a decade as the county’s top cop.
On Dec. 4, 2006, the county’s newest sheriff, then barely 31 years old, took office. At the time, he was the youngest elected sheriff to the position in the state.
Since then, he’s worked on fighting drug crimes with drug roundups, initiating a prescription drug take-back program and hiring more drug enforcement officers.
And he’s tried to improve the office’s management, the county detention and 911 communications centers, as well as oversee a force of about 100 employees and a budget of $7.8 million.
The son of Debbie Jo Cooley and Asa Ray Buck, the sheriff was born and raised in Carteret County. A graduate of East Carteret High School, he went on to graduate from East Carolina University in 1998 with a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice. He said law enforcement was what he wanted to do.
“I knew I wanted to go into law enforcement when I attended ECU,” he said.
After graduation, he thought about being a lawyer, or joining a federal agency.
“I was offered the opportunity to do an internship with the sheriff’s office here under former sheriff Ralph Thomas,” he said.
He began riding along with deputies, observing detectives at work and spending time in the courtroom to learn the judicial process.
“I liked it,” he said. “This is where the rubber meets the road, and I liked the people working here. So, before I graduated college, I applied for a job.”
Sheriff Thomas offered him a job in May 1998, and he was sworn in June 1. He completed Basic Law Enforcement at Carteret Community College in February 1999 and within a few weeks, he was on the road.
Within six years Sheriff Buck attained the rank of lieutenant.
When Sheriff Thomas announced his retirement, Sheriff Buck started his election bid and knocked on his first door on Ann Street in Beaufort, not far from his family home.
“When you knock on those doors, you show folks you are willing to invest time, meet people and listen to them,” he said. “I wouldn’t be sitting here today if I hadn’t knocked on those doors. Everyone who I ran against on both sides looked better on paper than I did. Some had been in law enforcement before I was born.”
In November 2006, he was elected sheriff, and once sworn in the next month, he set about his goals and hiring his staff.
“We hit the ground running,” he said.
Sheriff Buck said one of those goals has been to put a dent in the drug issues noting that most of the crime in the county has revolved around drugs and alcohol.
“We knew there were many things that needed to be done on a day-to-day basis running the office,” he said. “However, as a road deputy, I had also seen the overdoses and overdose deaths related to prescription medications. So, we really wanted to address the problem in the county.”
Only two detectives worked on drug investigations at that time, along with their other responsibilities.
One of the first things the sheriff did was to ask the County Board of Commissioners for, and eventually got, funding to hire two more drug detectives.
With the county board’s continued support, there are now five general detectives and four drug detectives.
While funding put more deputies on the road, the sheriff said the support of residents was vitally important.
“People realized what type of situation we had and they are the ones who took advantage of the chance to help us help them,” the sheriff said.
In 2008, the first drug take-back event, Pills Can Kill, a prescription drug drop program, was launched by the sheriff’s office.
“The citizens made it work,” Sheriff Buck said.
He said his office was stunned when 40,000 dosage units of various medications were collected in a four-hour period.
Over time, the program has caught on with other law enforcement on the local and state level. It now works in conjunction with the state’s Operation Medicine Drop and Safe Kids.
“We’ve taken a lot of these medications out of homes here in the county,” he said. “Across the state, you are talking about millions of dosage units.”
Prescription medication drop boxes are also now available in most county law enforcement offices.
“Things have built over time. Success breeds success,” Sheriff Buck said. “And, office-wise, we had a foundation to build on.”
He said the successes of the last 10 years are by no means his alone.
“I give credit where credit due,” he said. “Being a sheriff, or a leader of any organization, is not all about your own great ideas.”
He said reorganizing the talents of employees and their shared responsibilities has paramount.
“We created some new positions to do specialized jobs.” the sheriff said “And, these guys have done a fantastic job.”
Maj. Jason Wank, a sheriff’s office veteran, praised the sheriff for recognizing and using the expertise of those in the office.
“For the last 10 years Sheriff Buck has provided outstanding leadership and surrounded himself with good people,” he said. “The sheriff recognizes his deputies’ skills and talents and puts those people in the positions that benefit not only the sheriff’s office, but more importantly, the citizens of Carteret County.”
The sheriff said two things are vitally important to him.
“First, I give credit to the troops, the ones who are out there all day. Secondly, I thank the people who allow me to do the job. I couldn’t do it if they didn’t let me. Public confidence in this agency is vitally important, and I hope the public feels we are responsive to the needs of the community.”
Improvements in all areas of the office have been made, according to the sheriff.
They include improvements to the county 911 communications system, and the county’s detention center with the addition of cameras and upgraded computer systems. This year, a video system was installed linking the jail to the courtroom so first appearances can be conducted without inmates leaving the security of the detention center.
Another improvement is the use of naloxone, a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose, which is now available in deputy’s patrol cars. Administration of the medication by deputies in overdose situations has already saved two lives in the county.
“Our job is to save lives,” the sheriff said. “And, doing a job successfully requires having the right tools.”
Another change came last year, when the sheriff’s office and the Morehead City Police Department merged their special response teams (SRT). The team is highly trained, armed and prepared to respond in emergencies. The team includes paramedics and a professional negotiator.
Training is important, as well. Department personnel and members of other agencies continue to receive crisis intervention training. Capt. Dennis Barber leads the training that’s held at Carteret Community College. Law enforcement officers learn how to communicate and often de-escalate a mental health or drug-related crisis situation.
The sheriff said the department will continue to work with the public on battling drugs.
“The drug problem will always be here, but at what level?” he said. “There will always be criminals to sell drugs. But, it’s how you are going to deal with it. We send a clear message that as a community, we are not going to accept that.”
He said strict drug and other crime enforcement is something a society has to have in place.
“From day one we have taken a strong stance, and it will continue,” Sheriff Buck said.
As for the future, he plans to continue to serve, as long as voters re-elect him to office. A Republican, the sheriff serves four-year terms, with the next election in 2018.
Sheriff Buck and his wife Katina have two children, stepdaughter Kristen Garner and son Asa Bryant Buck IV.
Contact Helen Outland at 252-726-7081, ext. 211; email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter @helenccnt.