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N.C. attorney general urges changes to recruit and retain law officers

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein speaks during a press conference in Edneyville on Wednesday. N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein speaks during a press conference in Edneyville on Wednesday.

North Carolina law enforcement agencies need legislative help to hire and keep officers in their communities, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein said Wednesday during a stop in Edneyville.

“We need to put our money where our mouth is,” Stein said as he stood with local, area and state law enforcement leaders for a press conference at the Western Regional Crime Lab located at the Larry T. Justus Western Justice Academy in Edneyville.
Law enforcement agencies across the state are struggling to staff their departments and statistics show more violent crime happens when not enough officers are on the street, he said.
Hendersonville Police Chief Blair Myhand attended the press conference along with deputies from Henderson County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement officials. Sheriff Lowell Griffin sent a letter supporting efforts to help local departments hire and keep officers.
Myhand said he also supported the attorney general’s proposals to recruit and retain officers. More officers are leaving the profession than are joining law enforcement agencies across the state, he said.
“The challenges we are facing across the state are tremendous,” Myhand said.
Increasing salaries for law enforcement officers is a tremendous help in hiring and keeping employees, the chief said. Hendersonville offers a hiring bonus to officers who join the department but not every county or municipality in the state has that ability, he said.
Stein outlined a series of steps he said the state should take to help local departments hire and keep officers. Many of his recommendations would require action from the state legislature.
While most law enforcement officers in North Carolina are paid by local governments, the state should also offer hiring bonuses and encourage hiring military veterans and out-of-state-officers, Stein said.
He recommended that graduates of basic law enforcement training in North Carolina receive a $5,000 hiring bonus while out-of-state transfers and former military police officers receive $10,000 bonuses and a $10,000 relocation stipend.
Stein also called on the legislature to pass the Bring Back Our Heroes Act. The act, if passed, will stop what Stein called the “pension penalty” and allow retired officers to return to work without any impact to their retirement pay.
Stein’s other recommendations included:
• The state providing bonuses for officers who receive education or training up to a bachelor’s degree.
• Expand the Criminal Justice Fellows Program to all North Carolina counties and give students extra time to finish their degrees. The program repays community college loans for people who work four years in law enforcement jobs in the state.
• Launch an advertising campaign to recruit officers from other states and territories.
• Offer mental health and wellness resources to officers to address the unique challenges they face on the job.
• Allow civilians to manage minor motor vehicle accidents.
Some of his proposals are in legislative committees while Stein said he wants lawmakers to take up the other ideas.
Local law enforcement agencies also have the ability without legislative action to encourage and offer mental health support to officers who are performing a stressful and challenging service to their communities, Stein said.
He said he hopes lawmakers will take action to prevent officers from leaving the profession and reduce the stress on officers who remain in understaffed departments.
“We want to stop and reverse and remind people that this is an honorable profession,” he said. “There’s no better way to serve your community.”