Independence of new SBI debated

Since it began in 1937, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has been separate from the governor's administration. That changed last week.

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Laura Leslie
RALEIGH, N.C. — Since it began in 1937, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has been separate from the governor's administration. That changed last week.

A provision in the state budget that Gov. Pat McCrory signed last week moves the SBI out of the Department of Justice, which is overseen by Attorney General Roy Cooper, into the Department of Public Safety, a cabinet agency headed by a McCrory appointee. Backers of the change say the SBI will maintain its independence, but opponents are skeptical.

McCrory reiterated Monday that the shift will "take the politics out of the SBI."

"With the new independence created by this move, I will assure you – by law and because of my own ethics – you will not have interference with any type of an investigation from a political official, and this law guarantees just that," he said.

The governor has appointed B.W. Collier II, who most recently headed the state Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement, as acting director of the SBI. At his swearing-in Monday, he said he's looking forward to having the SBI as part of DPS.

"This day is indeed an historic day as we begin a new era of law enforcement in North Carolina," Collier said. "I feel confident that both agencies will complement each other and their efforts, and that our state will be a safer place because of this."

Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said the SBI is now under the very administration it sometimes investigates.

"We have the SBI that's currently investigating the Department of Corrections, currently investigating the Highway Patrol, currently investigating the governor's former employer. There is a reason why the SBI is independent of a governor," said Stein, a former deputy attorney general.

Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry said he will manage the SBI's budget and mission, but Collier will run the agency as he sees fit.

"No one can interfere with the casework of the SBI. This governor doesn't care to, nor do I," Perry said. "There are no jurisdictional changes to anything. We're simply called together to be more effective and productive and to enable each other to protect the citizens of this great state I call home."

Stein said the move doesn't save any money and no one at either agency asked for it. Police chiefs and sheriffs don't like it, either, he said.

"We have something that's worked," he said. "It's worked for political corruption. It's worked for local law enforcement. Why break it?"

Collier was an SBI agent for 26 years before taking the reins at ALE last year.

Under the budget, the governor's nominee for SBI director must be approved by state lawmakers. Collier can serve as acting director for up to a year before McCrory must nominate him or someone else as permanent director and lawmakers hold a confirmation vote.

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