Program Report: Sheriff Clarence Birkhead

Recently elected Sheriff Clarence Birkhead spoke on Monday about his vision for his department’s role in creating “One Community, One Durham.”  He is Durham’s first African American sheriff and only the thirteenth sheriff in Durham’s nearly 150 year history. 

He was introduced by club member Ernie Mills, Jr of the Durham Rescue Mission that itself works closely with the sheriff’s office. Ernie is also a part-time Deputy Sheriff.

Birkhead assumed the Durham County position with a wealth of experience.  Launching his career in law enforcement in Randolph County, he became Duke University’s police chief in 1998, a position he held for seven years.  Subsequently, he served as police chief in Hillsborough. 

In his campaign literature, Sheriff Birkhead stated that his number one goal is “A Durham County where all people are safe and live free from harm or fear.”  To that end, he has set in motion his plan for his “First Hundred Days.”  These are the steps that can be implemented locally. 

Birkhead’s philosophy of law enforcement traces back to Sir Robert Peel, a prominent British politician who, as Home Secretary in the 1820s, created the modern police force (whose officers were called “peelers” or “bobbies.”) Of Peel’s nine principles of policing, Birkhead recalled two that he regards as absolutely essential to public support and respect.  One, “the ability of police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval.”  Two, “the police are the public and the public are the police.”  The observance of these principles ensures that “everyone, including detainees, is treated with respect.”

Some issues can be dealt with locally.  Leadership from the top molds institutional culture.   Already, steps are being initiated to enhance the safety of detainees and inmates.  A commitment to work closely with the Durham Police Department is another.  To reassure the immigrant community, he has ended the cooperative agreement with ICE, a stand he first took in Hillsborough in 2006.  To those who complain that he is not “upholding the law,” he points out that in the 4th US Judicial Circuit, ICE can “request”—not require—a local jurisdiction to hold a detainee in custody.  Durham lags in compensation, an important component in attracting qualified people “who want a profession not just a job.”

Obviously, some issues confronting law enforcement are larger, societal issues.  Not surprisingly, sixty percent of detainees and inmates suffer from addiction or mental health issues.  A successful criminal justice system will incorporate treatment as well as punishment.  Locally, a mental health pod for males is operating.  A similar facility for females is on the drawing board and should be operating in 2020.

Although, some inmates have earned GED certificates prior to release we “spend too much money on incarceration and not enough on education or development of skills.”  He pointed to the bail system as another problem in search of reform.  Too many detainees, held for even relatively minor offences, can’t make bail and remain incarcerated awaiting disposition of their case.  All too often this means loss of employment, residence, even custody of a child.

Club members seated at my table expressed satisfaction at how clearly Sheriff Birkhead communicated his philosophy and goals.

Submitted by Allen Cronenberg

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New Member: Peter Morcombe

Please introduce yourself and welcome new member Peter Morcombe. Peter was sponsored by fellow Brit, John Staddon.

My career has been primarily in telecommunications with a strong technical background in electro-optics in general and fiber optic cable systems in particular.

PLUSCOMM INC.                                                                                        1987 -present

Delivering fiber optics courses in universities and technical colleges for technicians seeking FOA (Fiber Optic Association) certifications.  Consulting projects for various companies including GE.

UNITED INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY                                               2005 -2009

Delivering FiOS courses in Verizon training centers in Brandon, FL and Lewisville, TX. Courses included state of the art FTTP “Fiber To The Premises” technology.

DUKE UNIVERSITY                                                                                    1990 -2002

Chief R&D engineer at the Duke FEL (Free Electron Laser) Laboratory.   Led the team that built the HIGS (world’s brightest gamma ray source).  Served on the Duke University Radiation Safety Committee for many years

ITT CORPORATION                                                                                   1978 – 1987

Set up factories to produce optical fiber, cables and related electronics in Europe, Asia and Latin America.  Worked on digital telephone exchanges, high capacity optical transmission systems (terrestrial and submarine) and telephone instruments.

SELF EMPLOYED / FREELANCE CONSULTANT                               1970 – 1978

Set up the development team for ICL’s ME29 computer.  Set up a factory producing high power pulsed lasers and high speed cameras.  Set up a food factory.

ITT CORPORATION                                                                                   1966 – 1970

Expanded engineering departments to employ 520 people working in three countries.

GEC (TELECOMMUNICATIONS) LTD.                                                   1958 – 1966

Set up a group designing telephone instruments for the British market.


Master of Arts degree (Honors) from Cambridge University, in Electrical Engineering, and Physics.  Awarded a major scholarship in Physics by Pembroke College and an industrial scholarship by GEC Ltd.  Member of  the IEE, IEEE & LEOS.


I participated in the creation of nine charter schools and served as a board member for six of the them.    My current interests include K-12 education, electric power generation, “Climate Change” and health care.

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Rotary Scholarship Winner: Alanna Autry


Our final Centennial Scholar, Alanna Autry, a graduate of Jordan HS was introduced at the meeting by outgoing Scholarship Committee Chair Meg Solera. The other three scholars were introduced at last Monday’s meeting. Ms. Autry is headed to UNC Charlotte to study communications and journalism.

All the Centennial Scholarship students have been mentored for years by Student U, a student college going support organization whose mission is to empower students in the Durham Public Schools to own their education by developing the academic skills and personal well-being necessary to succeed in college and beyond.

Each awardee received a $1,000 scholarship for freshman year, and with continued enrollment and academic success, will receive a renewed $1,000 for their second year. Each also received a plaque to recognize their outstanding achievement.

Congratulations to all the scholarship students and the families and supporters at Student U.

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Program Report: Hugh Harris


Scammers, hackers and trolls are infesting the internet in record numbers and they’re playing at the top of their game.

For illegal profit at your expense, they’re trying to get personal information, including social security numbers … the crown jewels of identity theft. Use lazy passwords, and they’ll crack right in and help themselves.

As Hugh Harris of the state Department of Justice cautioned Rotarians at lunch on Monday, the bad guys know how to spell now. They get the grammar right. They use perfect fake logos and other validating visuals and have even been known to tailor scams with personal information available in the public domain. If you include last year’s data breach at Equifax, more than 5 million state residents have been affected by data breaches, said Harris, outreach and policy counsel for the DOJ’s public protection unit.  “It’s constant,” Harris said. “It’s non-stop.”

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New Member: Tammy Closs

Please introduce yourself and welcome Tammy Closs to the Club.

Tammy is a senior technology professional with more than 20 years of diverse experience leading world class technology organizations with a focus on enterprise solutions. She currently serves as Verizon’s Client Partner for North and South Carolina Government and Education customers leading Business Development and Solutions Development processes.

Tammy enjoys creating stained glass and kiln glass art which has been a growing passion for 20 years.  She also enjoys actively supporting various charitable causes and recently returned from a Disaster Recovery Ministry in St. Thomas.

Tammy is married to Patrick Perry who is a nurse at the VA hospital.  Together they enjoy adventures of white water rafting, caving, hiking and other outdoor activities. She has 2 sons, Eric recently returned from 3 years in South Korea teaching English as a second language. And Andrew lives in Charlotte where he is a marketing representative for Greenman Brewery based in Ashville.

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