@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Law enforcement groups detail needed policing reforms for House committee

Posted September 28, 2020 6:15 p.m. EDT

— A legislative task force on police reform heard Monday from law enforcement groups about what reforms they believe are needed.

While other reform efforts are focusing on community input, the House Select Committee on Community Relations, Law Enforcement and Justice is more focused on recommendations from law enforcement. The task force includes district attorneys, judges, sheriffs and other elected leaders.

Police and sheriff's associations told committee members that officers need more mental health support, and law enforcement agencies need better coordination with social service groups. They also asked for better pay and more community support.

Randy Byrd, president of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, said many officers are leaving the field because of ongoing protests. Applications to training academies are down 70 percent, he said.

"Professional people want to be treated professionally, and if this is what’s going to happen," Byrd said, "most police chiefs will tell you they can’t even find people who want to do this because they’re watching the news and following Twitter and everything else just like everybody else."

The legislative task force is also considering letting law enforcement agencies know earlier in the hiring process whether a job applicant is under an inquiry in another agency. Right now, they can only see inquiries that are already over.

"What I’m looking for a solution that halts the 'gypsy officer' when the inquiry is made, not when the determination’s made," said Andrew Womble, a district attorney for several counties in the northeast corner of the state, "so that that next employer down the line knows that this particular officer is, has got a case before the standards commission."

"We want to be sure that an officer who’s accused has adequate process and a fair hearing and so forth. But when it’s determined that they have not met standards, then we need a clear situation to make sure we don’t just pass that down the street to a smaller agency," agreed Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel for the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association.

District Judge Fred Gore and Christine Mumma, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence, both called for school resource officers to handle school discipline issues and not criminal offenses. Gore cited and example of a 16-year-old being sent to adult court for misbehavior on a school bus.

"Forty-two percent of the court cases in juvenile court are referrals from school disciplinary issues," Mumma said. "It is a burden on the juvenile court system, and it also starts juveniles down that pipeline that we are trying to avoid them going down in the first place."

The committee is required to submit some recommendations to the state House by Dec. 31.

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