Governor, not attorney general, could control SBI

Jun. 10, 2014 @ 10:28 PM

RALEIGH — By the end of the summer, the State Bureau of Investigation could have a new home.

North Carolina's General Assembly appears united on moving the State Bureau of Investigation from the control of the elected attorney general to an agency within Gov. Pat McCrory's administration.

The House budget unveiled Tuesday joins the Senate with plans to move the investigative agency from Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper's agency to the state Department of Public Safety. Department head Frank Perry was appointed by McCrory.

The House proposal would shift the SBI and the Alcohol Law Enforcement Section, but keep the State Crime Lab within Cooper's office. The Senate proposed moving the lab to the department. A House budget-writing committee approved the transfer Tuesday morning.

Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, a House budget writer on justice issues, said the move to transfer the SBI, slipped into this year's budget, comes after years of conversations between the governor's office and the General Assembly. He said the House resisted the move last year, but the more the body talked about it the more it seemed logical. The move will save money and enhance its independence with the governor appointing a director that would have to be approved by the General Assembly, Daughtry said.

"We followed the lead of the governor's people as well as the Senate's people. They all seemed to think it could be done without doing any damage," he said.

He disputed the idea that the SBI would become less independent or more politicized.

"If you have an independent head of the SBI ... that gives me a lot of confidence," he said.

Perry has pushed for the move. He says it will improve law enforcement and intelligence in North Carolina with heightened oversight and streamline communication.

"Forty-two other states do it this way and it's time for North Carolina to evolve and have more integrated law enforcement efforts and this is one way to do that," Perry said.

Perry said the Perdue and Easley administrations also discussed a transfer and said it is a natural evolution as law enforcement and its use of intelligence has changed.

Consolidating the agencies will also better allow the state to interface with the federal Department of Homeland Security and streamline communication and collaboration efforts with them, Perry said.

Cooper, who is planning a run for governor in 2016, opposed the plan when it was rolled out of the Senate budget last month and characterized it as a political move that will hamper the agency's independence.

"With this move the legislature protects itself and the governor at the expense of government integrity, and ignores North Carolina law enforcement's opposition," Cooper said in a statement.

If the Bureau of Investigation is transferred to the Department of Public Safety, House Republicans are directing DPS to find savings. The House budget calls for $1 million in savings, the Senate budget calls for $750,000 and states that the merge will result in more savings in the future.

Both budgets plans also relocate the Alcohol Law Enforcement as a branch of the SBI. The House budget plan directs the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee to study the merger of the N.C. Crime Lab and the State Medical Examiner into a single independent state agency, and present its findings to the 2015 General Assembly. The study would look at potential cost savings by a merge and whether quantity of services would improve.