The N.C. State Fair has a new police chief who’s just getting settled into the job in time for the Got to Be NC Festival. Anthony “Tony” Prignano started on April 25. Technically, his job title is Public Safety and Security Chief, and it’s a shift from his decades of work in the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.
“When I retired from the sheriff’s office in March at age 53, I didn’t want to just quit working,” Prignano said. “I’ve been in in law enforcement for nearly 30 years. It’s not just something that leaves your blood. When it comes to the fairgrounds, it’s nice to think about the number of people you’ll deal with. After being in an atmosphere where you encounter a lot of bad guys on a daily basis, it’s nice to think about coming in contact with the everyday citizen at the fairgrounds.”
Prignano said he’s been to many events at the fairgrounds over the years, including the N.C. State Fair, the weekend flea market and other special events such as gun shows or the Man Expo. So he’s familiar with the year-round nature of the job. He thinks of the fairgrounds much like a campus or even a community that’s not all that different from any Durham neighborhood where he was part of policing to provide safety and security. His experience also includes being chief deputy and then director of the Durham County Detention Center during his last five years with the agency. He also regularly led the security team for the EnoFest – a three-day festival in Durham.
Prignano boils down his job to simply “providing a safe and secure environment for those visiting – not just for attendees but for the vendors or anyone else on the grounds.” Accomplishing that goal is certainly more complex than it may sound, and he already has some ideas and is thinking about a few changes.
“My initial challenge is manpower, just like lots of places around the country right now. We’re trying to get some people hired,” Prignano said. “Additional challenges come daily as I learn new things and as I learn how we need to approach various types of concerns. If there are any changes that need to be made I’m going to make them.”
Prignano said the employees in the N.C. State Fair division of NCDA&CS have been a huge help so far. He admits there’s a lot of specifics to learn about the fairgrounds, but the division has welcomed him with open arms and a willingness to help with anything he needs.
So he’s looking forward to the festival, the many events in the months to come, and of course, his first N.C. State Fair as the new police chief. This year, he may of course have some insider access to the food, which he says has always been his favorite part of the fair.
“I will pig out on just about everything. I especially look forward to the new offerings to try out,” he said. “But I will not walk outside that fair until I get an Italian sausage, peppers and onions sandwich. You don’t even have to tell me where it is. I’ll walk in the gate and know where it is because I can smell it!”
Before joining the N.C. State Fair
Prignano grew up in New Jersey and joined the Marines at age 18. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina but also spent a lot of time in the Mediterranean during his service. After four years in the Marines, he moved to the Army for four years where he was stationed in other states and spent time in South Korea. Although he was in Kentucky at the end of his Army service, he chose to come back to North Carolina where he joined the Durham County Sheriff’s Office in 1995.
His wife of 22 years is Niki Prignano. They have two daughters. Allie is in her third year at Campbell University where she’s in the ROTC program and plans to join the Army after graduation. Ava is headed into her senior year at Roxboro Community School where she plays right field on the school’s softball team. Prignano said she currently wants to pursue law school.