Bedford County Deputy James Kirkland announced his entry into the race to succeed retiring Sheriff Mike Brown on March 21.

Kirkland, who will run as an independent, is entering a crowded field which already includes three other veteran law enforcement officials with ties to the county.

In a news release declaring his candidacy, Kirkland, who is the longest-serving K-9 handler in the sheriff’s office, outlined four areas he would focus upon if elected.

His priorities include enhancing school safety, expanding narcotics enforcement, opening a direct line of communication to county businesses and churches and increasing the number of deputies on the road by restructuring administrative positions. He said these goals could all be accomplished with current staffing levels.

“A Kirkland administration will be a working administration that will be out in the community,” Kirkland said in a statement March 21. “Under my administration, we will be here for the community and work with the community to make Bedford a better place.”

Kirkland, 47, joined the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office in 2000 after serving as a sheriff’s deputy in Campbell County and after working at BWX Technologies. From 1990 to 1994, Kirkland served in the U.S. Army.

Kirkland now commands the sheriff’s office’s tactical response team and, as a road deputy, patrols the county.

Kirkland’s announcement comes nearly three months after Brown announced he will not seek re-election in November and will retire from the sheriff’s office at the end of the year. Brown will end a nearly quarter-century tenure as sheriff when he leaves office on Dec. 31.

Three other longtime law enforcement officials are also competing to replace Brown. Capt. Mike Miller, a veteran deputy who manages the department’s budget and courthouse security; Kent Robey, a former deputy and special agent with the Federal Air Marshal Service, and Capt. Tim Hayden, another veteran deputy who oversees the county’s school resource program, have all officially entered the race.

Like Hayden, Kirkland has filed to run as an independent in the November general election, according to Bedford County General Registrar Barbara Gunter.

“Every member of our county should get the same treatment and that should not be based on party affiliation,” Kirkland said, explaining his decision to run as an independent.

Miller and Robey are both seeking the Republican nomination. The GOP primary will be June 11. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 5.