A remarkable tenure

Sep. 07, 2013 @ 12:41 PM

If you’re, say, 30 years old, living in Orange County and need to call the sheriff to report a break-in at your home or apartment, think about this:

When the current sheriff took over as the county’s top law enforcement officer, you weren’t born.

Lindy Pendergrass has been Orange County’s sheriff for 31 years – and still counting.  First elected in 1982, he won re-election seven times, the last time in 2010. But when this term winds up in 1914, Pendergrass will hang up his badge after 32 years.

“Time to go home,” Pendergrass, 79,  laconically told The Chapel Hill Herald’s Beth Velliquette recently in confirming that he would not – “absolutely not” run for a ninth term.

In the more than three decades that Pendergrass has been in office, the county he serves has nearly doubled in population – from 77,055 people in 1980 to an estimated 137,941 today. While much of that growth has been in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, new developments and neighborhoods have sprung up throughout the county.

Orange County throughout those years has enjoyed a relatively low incidence of crime, certainly violent crime. But like any other place in the country, is has not been immune, and Pendergrass and his deputies have had to deal with their share of homicides and other odious crime.

He’s proud, he noted last week, his office has been able to solve all but two homicides that have occurred during his tenure.  One, he recalled, was a drive-by shooting. In the other, a man was beaten to death.

“We want to solve those in the worst way,” he said.

Police work is often about the routine, even the mundane – but even the most commonplace call is important to the person seeking the sheriff’s help. Pendergrass looks back with satisfaction on his response.

“I’ve done all I could for anybody anytime and certainly this is a position that I tried to do everything I could to be responsive to every citizen and not have anything that would put the department in a bad light at any time,” he recalled.

With the voters’ mandate registered eight times, his constituents surely agreed with that assessment.

Pendergrass still has many good months as sheriff ahead, but when the end of this term rolls around, we will be indebted to him for a remarkable career of public service.