Herald 2023 Candidate Q & A: Prince Edward County Sheriff Race
Published 6:07 pm Sunday, October 29, 2023
As we move into late October, early voting has already started and for those who want to wait, it’s less than a month until Election Day. With that in mind, we’re reaching out to candidates in all contested races across our coverage area, asking them to answer several questions. Each candidate in a race receives the same questions and the same amount of time to send answers in.
Last month, we moderated and reported on the Prince Edward County political forum, organized by the local chapter of the NAACP. When it comes to the Prince Edward County sheriff’s race, Robert Goldman was the only candidate on hand. The current Prince Edward County sheriff, L.A. “Tony” Epps, was out of town attending a sheriff’s conference and unable to attend. We promised then that Sheriff Epps would be given the same opportunity to answer the same questions as Mr. Goldman. We’re doing that here, with Goldman’s answers side by side.
Epps joined the Prince Edward Sheriff’s Office in 1987 under Sheriff Gene A. Southall. In 1989, he received his law enforcement training through the Central Virginia Criminal Justice Academy in Lynchburg. He worked full time as a deputy, investigator, and then sergeant until 2005, working for Prince Edward County sheriffs Southall and Harris. During his time as an investigator, Epps received Death Investigation training from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He also had numerous other Law Enforcement Certifications and training during this time. Tony remained a sworn deputy sheriff until 2012. He was elected sheriff in November of 2019, winning against two-term incumbent Sheriff Wesley W. Reed.
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Robert Goldman has served as a field training officer, first line supervisor for law enforcement, a general instructor, defensive tactics instructor, trainer for basic crisis intervention and K-9 dog handler for both Piedmont Regional Jail and Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Office during his career. He’s also gone through basic undercover courses and studied domestic extremism and hate groups. Goldman has held positions with Hurt Security, Central Security, Buckingham Correctional Facility and Piedmont Regional Jail, where he served from 1998-2005. In 2005, Robert resigned from the Piedmont Regional Jail and began his career as a road deputy for the Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Office.
Q. When it comes to crime, are you satisfied with Prince Edward’s current status? What are we doing well and what do we need to change, in your opinion?
Epps: I think we are fortunate to live in an area where the crime rate is relatively low. Not saying we don’t have our share of crime, but it doesn’t even compare to 50 miles east or west of us. We have been actively applying for and receiving grants to purchase the much needed equipment for our deputies to operate efficiently, but we still need to work on better pay so we can keep good deputies in our county and not train them and then lose them to other agencies that pay more.
Goldman: Our drug problem, we need to work on that. I was on the Virginia State Police task force. As soon as the task force disappeared, the drugs, that’s all you hear. As I’m campaigning around the county, I hear the complaints about the drugs. If you can slow down the drugs, you slow down the (breaking and entering), you slow down the killings, because most of the three extend from each other. And it can carry from Prince Edward to the other counties. Now, notice I said control. You can control it. You cannot stop it but you can control it. So all we can do is work on it, make an attempt to slow things down. You have to start somewhere.
I also want to bridge the gap with law enforcement. I want to be able to have communication with all law enforcement agencies and departments here in Prince Edward County. We have eight departments or offices here. What we need to do is be able to communicate. We need to sit down with the leaders and come up with a plan for each and every thing that we’re going to go through, a policy. We can sit down and make a written policy that states what to do in every situation.
Q. The latest “Crime in Virginia” report detailed 514 robberies, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts in Prince Edward County during 2022. That’s 514 in Prince Edward County. 270 in Buckingham and Cumberland, with a much smaller population, at 84. Prince Edward has the largest population out of the three, so 514 is a smaller percentage. But how do we cut down on that number?
Goldman: Basically, again, it’s going to stem from the drugs. It also extends from mental health. Some of the biggest drug users are those that have mental health issues. If you give them medication and they feel the medication is not working, they take it and sell it for drugs. So now you get them using drugs, mixing in with the mental health issues. It gives you courage to do things you wouldn’t do if you were on your medication.
That’s something I want to work on, working closer with Crossroads, working closer with Piedmont Regional Jail, working closer with the hospital. We have to find a way to slow down some of the crime you’re speaking of, but I don’t care how you’re looking at it, it all extends from drugs. I try to find some other reason, but that’s the only reason at this point in time I could tell you. Until we control the drugs, those other crimes will continue to happen.
Epps: I believe if you look closely at that number that was published, it includes some numbers from other agencies within our county, so the crime rate for Prince Edward Sheriff’s Office cases is even lower than it seems. One thing I would like to see is the number of deputies the state allows by population. For years it has been set at one deputy per 1500 citizens. This makes it hard on the department when we have a deputy out sick or on vacation and we have to struggle to cover. The more visibility you have the lower the crime rate so I would like to see more deputies per population to improve visibility and patrol.
Q.When it comes to operations, is there a project you’d like to spotlight? Or one you’d like to launch in the coming year?
Epps: Something that I haven’t released yet is our new Internet crimes against children task force that is up and running. This program was put in place to keep our children as safe as possible from pedophiles. We have already made several arrest and will be doing a press release soon. Also because of man power issues the VA State Police pulled out of the drug and gang task force but we are still working and making cases with the Farmville Police Department, Cumberland Sheriff’s office and Buckingham Sheriff’s office. We have a great working relationship with all local, state and federal agencies and we will continue this relationship.
Goldman: I want to bridge the gap (between agencies). You may say we have communication. We have that connection. But we don’t. I’ve worked there. I’ve seen it. I can pull up to a stop sign in uniform and there’s another officer at the stop sign in his uniform and he won’t even acknowledge that I’m there. How can we solve crime or how can you call me to go to your house to solve a problem when we have a problem with each other? With the Virginia State Police Task Force, when the state trooper got killed in Cumberland, it brought us together more than we had ever been.
But we don’t need to be brought together for a year, a month. We need to stay together. We don’t need an officer to go down to come together. That’s what I want to do. I want to sit down with each department and see what we can do to come together.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge the Prince Edward Sheriff’s Office faces and how can we overcome it?
Epps: I think a challenge that not only we are facing but every agency is facing is the war on illegal narcotics. Meth ,Heroine and other drugs including Marijuana are laced with fentanyl now and are causing a lot of deaths across our country. We are working hard to get as much of this killer off our streets as possible.
This is truly the reason that I came back and ran for Sheriff. I had so many parents and law enforcement officials that approached me to run for Sheriff and work on this drug problem. I immediately started the k9 program to help with drug searches and detection and I also changed drug investigators soon after taking office and this has definitely made a difference in the amount of drugs seized and cases made in Prince Edward County. More manpower and money would help us even more.
Goldman: If we have something going on in Prince Edward, Hampden Sydney should know about it, Longwood should know about it.
All the agencies in Prince Edward should know about it, so they can be searching for the same person. If I’m going over to Longwood, I’m not just going over to Longwood. I’m going to let the chief know and invite one or two of her guys to join us in doing a search warrant. Just come together as one and make Prince Edward a stronger place. And we can do it.