Let’s count all of the various state law enforcement authorities we have here in North Carolina. We have DMV enforcement — which goes after trucks that dodge weigh stations, and deals with things like vehicle theft and vehicle documentation issues. We have the NC Highway Patrol, ,which we all know about. We have ALE enforcement, which runs sting operations on convenience stores and stakes out strip joints. The Commissioner of Insurance has agents that investigate insurance-related matters. The Secretary of State has investigators. The Department of Revenue has law enforcement agents who collect “drug taxes” from busted drug dealers. The SBI reports to the state Attorney General.
It seems like just about every elected official in Raleigh has their own group of guys and gals with guns and badges. Meanwhile, we have budget strains that are limiting state law enforcement activity. Finances are also keeping the SBI crime lab from meeting the needs of prosecutors across the state in a timely manner. Why not consolidate all of these resources into ONE state police agency? You could eliminate waste and redundancies. You could very likely increase some efficiencies as well as improve service to the public. It works in Virginia and many other states JUST FINE.
There is legislation on Jones Street to move the SBI away from The Department of Justice and over to the state Department of Public Safety. Of course, Attorney General Roy Cooper is not thrilled:
Such a move would boost the power of DPS Secretary Kieran Shanahan, a Republican appointee of Gov. Pat McCrory, at the expense of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, whose office now oversees the SBI.
“It is a bad public policy idea,” Cooper said Friday. “It is critically important that the SBI remain independent and autonomous under an independently elected attorney general.”
He pointed to recent SBI investigations into the campaign finances of former Govs. Mike Easley and Beverly Perdue.
Hmmm. Independent? Autonomous? Really? Aren’t you an elected Democrat, Roy? I consulted with an old friend of mine, who served many years with the SBI, for his thoughts on this proposal. Here’s what he told me:
“The SBI IS — and has always been — a political police force. If the Attorney General, or one of his political cronies, wants something to go away, it goes away. If they want someone nailed, they get nailed. Plain and simple. “
Back during my days with the drive-by media, I saw some of that with my own eyes. In 1995, I came out with an exposé about a close aide to Governor Jim Hunt — with an office literally right next door to Jimbo’s — allegedly shaking down applicants for state jobs for “contributions” to Hunt’s campaign. Amid the media firestorm — a few days later — I was at the state board of elections office in Raleigh doing some research. While there, I noticed two SBI agents come in the front door, flash their credentials, and ask for a bunch of finance reports for the campaign of former Gov. Jim Martin (R). Hmmm. There’s a media firestorm going on about a Hunt aide allegedly shaking down state employees for campaign contributions. Suddenly, we have agents under the command of Democrat attorney general Mike Easley snooping into the campaign records of the recently departed GOP governor. Coincidence?
This shouldn’t be a question of political “turf.” It should be about making state law enforcement more efficient and effective. Why not have this new state police organization be modeled after the FBI at the federal level? Make the director appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature, for a 10 year term. (The director would outlast the potential tenure of his political patron.)