Law enforcement agencies against proposed changes to the SBI - WNCT

Law enforcement agencies against proposed changes to the SBI

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

The proposed Senate budget is getting push back from law enforcement across the state.

It's calling for a major change to the State Bureau of Investigation.

The proposed plan would move most of the SBI form the Department of Justice, controlled by Attorney General Roy Cooper, to the Department of Public Safety, controlled by Governor Pat McCrory.

Backed by police chiefs, sheriffs, and persecutors from across the state, Attorney General Roy Cooper made it clear Monday, he wants the SBI to stay the way it is.

Representatives from law enforcement agencies here in the East are also siding with the Attorney General.

"We think it would create addition levels of bureaucracy in affect the service that people have locally and that's a great concern to us," explained Maj. Kenneth Watson from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Supporters of the change say it only makes sense to keep all the law enforcement agencies under one roof. The North Carolina Highway Patrol and the Department of Corrections is currently operated by the Department of Public Safety.

But several law enforcement agencies say, it needs to stay under the Department of Justice.

"One of the concerns we would have locally is the impact it would have on the assistance the SBI can provide to us in less populated areas like Beaufort County," explained Maj. Watson. He says it could make getting assistance from special investigators from the SBI, for example cases of arson or a meth lab bust, much more difficult.

Another concern among law enforcement is corruption.

"For over 75 years, the SBI has provided a check on power and no matter who controls the state Legislature, the Governor's office or the Attorney General's office, this system works best," Cooper said.  "Putting the SBI under any Governor's administration increases the risk that corruption and cover up occur with impunity."

Cooper says the SBI's independence allows it to keep other agencies, including the governor's office, in check.

"The SBI has established a good track record of investigating public corruption," said Maj. Watson, "so you can imagine that if the SBI answered to the executive branch of government, there would be the possibility of influence on those investigations in the future."

The Senate addressed that problem saying they would leave a 5 person department under the Attorney General to investigate those types of cases.

Cooper called the Senate's plan to keep four or five people in the Attorney General's Office to handle public corruption cases a "fig leaf" to cover the move away from independence that would severely cripple investigations that typically include agents from several parts of the SBI.  

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