Local News

Perdue names six to assist with Highway Patrol revamp

Posted July 23, 2010 5:35 a.m. EDT
Updated July 23, 2010 7:18 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Beverly Perdue on Friday named six people to an advisory panel to help restructure the beleaguered state Highway Patrol.

The six members named and their backgrounds are as follows:

Burley Mitchell – lawyer with the Womble Carlyle law firm, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, former judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, former secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety and former Wake County district attorney

Julius Chambers – professor of law and director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, former chancellor of North Carolina Central University and former director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

Chris Swecker – lawyer and global security and fraud consultant based in Charlotte, former assistant director of the criminal division of the FBI, former executive assistant director for the law enforcement branch for the FBI, former special agent in charge of the FBI’s North Carolina offices and former prosecutor

Peter Gilchrist – district attorney for Mecklenburg County since 1975 and member of the board of directors of the Council for State Governments Justice Center

Ralph Walker – former judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, former director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, former superior court judge, former prosecutor and former county attorney

Norma Houston – UNC School of Government faculty specializing in ethics and emergency management law, former assistant attorney general, former attorney for Dare County and former chief of staff to the president pro tem of the state Senate

“This panel’s insight and experience will be especially beneficial as we chart a new course for the patrol that will re-establish their reputation as one of the premier law enforcement agencies in the nation,” Perdue said in a statement. “The men and women who serve – and our citizens – deserve nothing less.”

The patrol's image has been plagued in recent years by a number of cases involving state troopers who have resigned, been fired or been disciplined for inappropriate or questionable conduct, including profiling, drunken driving, animal abuse, sex on duty and inappropriate text messages.

Perdue had asked patrol commander Col. Randy Glover and Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety Reuben Young to devise a plan to restructure the agency.

WRAL Investigates also found that, from 2006 to 2009, an average of 17 troopers resigned or were fired – less than 1 percent of the force – amid an investigation each year.

Complaints ranged from not doing paperwork to serious issues such as obstructing an investigation. More than 60 percent of complaints were substantiated each year, and most complaints originated from fellow troopers.

Glover unexpectedly announced a week ago that he would step down on Sept. 1, saying he didn't want to become a target for the patrol's critics.

The advisory panel will help Young with the selection process for a new commander and will provide recommendations on the patrol's structure and policies, consider recommendations for the 2011 legislative session to enact further reform and rebuild the focus on integrity, honor and the heritage of the patrol.

"We're moving forward," said Ernie Seneca, spokesman for the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. "This is a proud organization. Unfortunately, there's been issues that have come to light with a few that have shed light on existing problems. We'll be addressing those, as we've had in the past."

The state Police Benevolent Association said a current or former trooper should be added to the panel to make others "fully aware of the magnitude of the unique culture of the Highway Patrol." The group also called for a criminal investigation of patrol leaders.

Swecker said he plans to go into the situation with an open mind, look at the facts, and do everything possible to make the Highway Patrol the best it can be.

The group's report will be due to Young by Sept. 1.

Many want the next commander to come from outside of the Highway Patrol, but state law mandates that the agency's leadership come from the governor, secretary of the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety or someone within the ranks of the patrol. Changing the law would require action by state lawmakers, whose next regular session starts in January.

Perdue said Wednesday that she is open to looking outside the patrol for a new leader, but she doesn't want to call a special legislative session to address changing state law.

Observers have speculated that she could work at the edges of the law by finding a trained trooper who left for other leadership opportunities. The governor also could hire an interim patrol commander until the law is changed.