After a 33-year career in law enforcement, Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter is calling it quits.
The four-term sheriff announced at a Thursday news conference that he would not seek a fifth term in the 2022 elections. When his term is up, he will have served as sheriff for 14 years.
“I feel like that’s enough for anybody to be in this position,” said Carter, who was elected to his first term in 2006, and his last in 2018. “My health is good, but 33 years is a long time to be in this field and four terms is enough to be sheriff.”
Carter, 54, a Republican, is retiring and said he plans to work outside of law enforcement, but he’s not sure where. He also noted he has no political aspirations.
As a Lee County High School student, Carter said, he’d wanted to pursue a career that offered excitement rather than sitting at a desk. Law enforcement caught his eye.
“The glamour of the career attracted me, but once I got into it, I realized there was a whole lot more to it than that,” Carter said.
After graduating, Carter completed basic law enforcement training at Central Carolina Community College. He transferred to Campbell University in Buies Creek and earned his diploma in 1989.
Carter’s first job was working part-time for six months at the Broadway Police Department. In December 1986, he accepted a full-time job with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
He stayed for seven years and then worked for the now-defunct Lee County Schools police force which supervised the school resource officers. He stayed there for 13 years.
Carter was unsuccessful in a 2002 bid for the Lee County sheriff seat. He gave it another try in 2006 and was elected to the office, where he’s served the past 14 years.
He said he is most proud of the relationship the department has built with the community.
“We have a great relationship here in the entire community. They’ve been a big help to us. That’s the key to fighting crime is getting the public on your side,” he said.
“Having a good relationship with people you serve is one of the best things you can achieve.”
Since taking office, Carter said, he worked to improve the various divisions of the department including several he developed: County Resource Officer, Animal Control, Communications, School Resource Officers and Drug Enforcement. He noted he’s enjoyed a good relationship with the Lee County commissioners, which has been helpful when the commission determined funding for the sheriff’s office each year.
Under his tenure, Carter said, he’s also increased the number of patrol deputies on the streets and school resource officers are now in all the county’s schools.
Carter’s term was marked by the 2011 tornado that spun up from Cumberland and Harnett counties and destroyed the old Lowe’s building on South Horner Boulevard.
That event is something he said he won’t forget; seeing how residents and the store were impacted.
Carter said he’ll never forget crime victims — particularly those whose family members have been killed.
“One of the biggest challenges is seeing people suffer,” the father of four said.
Another challenge has been the coronavirus pandemic. Carter was complimentary of Lee County residents who have been steadfast in practicing prevention measures.
Stepping away from the job will bring mixed emotions, he said.
“I’m going to miss some things, like helping people. I keep going back to the fact there comes a point when it has to end. I’m going to miss being sheriff. I will miss the people, but you’ve got to know when it’s time to step aside,” Carter said.
For now, he’ll enjoy spending time with his wife, Angie, their children and three grandchildren. A fourth is on the way, Carter said.
Serving Lee County has been an honor, he said.
“I think that I want the citizens to know that me being sheriff has been a high honor in my life. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”