@NCCapitol

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Transfer of SBI will strengthen agency, Perry says

Posted September 4, 2014 7:45 p.m. EDT
Updated September 8, 2014 7:14 a.m. EDT

— Backers of a recent change in oversight of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation say the move was aimed at saving the state money and being more efficient.

State Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry said Thursday that it will also strengthen the agency's ability to focus on intelligence-driven law enforcement that helps prevent major crimes across the state.

"The overall mission of the SBI will be tweaked a bit, with the No. 1 priority being homeland security – international terrorism and domestic terrorism," Perry said. "It has to be that way. The states are now at the forefront of homeland security."

Up until last month, the SBI was under the administration of the Department of Justice, which is overseen by the attorney general, but a provision in the state budget moved it into the Department of Public Safety, which is a cabinet agency headed by a gubernatorial appointee.

Some, including Attorney General Roy Cooper, have criticized the move, saying they're concerned that a governor would have influence over officers tasked with investigating state government corruption.

But Perry says the SBI director – not the governor – decides what to investigate and that the agency still maintains its independence. DPS' role is managing the SBI's budget and mission.

"The people (of North Carolina) certainly need to realize that, in law enforcement, you don't work in a vacuum," he said. "The agents develop the cases and bring it to a district attorney in a certain district. Those DAs are Republicans and Democrats across the state, so those cases are overseen by respective prosecutors and not the governor."

What the move does do, he said, is administratively house the SBI with other law enforcement agencies, such as the State Highway Patrol and Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement, to make it easier for them to share and analyze intelligence from field officers.

"We can be in the same districts and the same offices sharing intelligence and just having more immediate access to each other as opposed to what in the past was administrative, if not bureaucratic, walls between us," Perry said. "Now that we're together, I think we're going to have a higher accountability to prevent as well as to prosecute."

Another core function of the agency – known best for the help it gives local law enforcement agencies – is work on violent crimes and major offenders.

"We're going to elevate the SBI to be more aggressive with other Department of Public Safety assets and the federal government to combat the growing gang problem in this state, in this country, inside our prisons."