Protecting the people of North Carolina must be job one for the people who serve our state. It certainly is for the men and women in law enforcement who keep our communities safe each day. But law enforcement agencies across the state are facing significant staff shortages, and they’re struggling to hire and retain officers. Fewer well-trained officers in these critical positions means we are all less safe. That’s why I’ve been working alongside the Sheriffs’ Association, the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, and other law enforcement leaders to develop a series of proposals to help agencies to recruit and retain law enforcement officers across North Carolina.
Earlier this year, my office and I pushed the General Assembly to include a comprehensive package in its state budget to address these widespread vacancies. Below is an overview of the solutions we’ve proposed.
The state can support local governments by offering hiring bonuses to encourage military veterans and new and out-of-state officers to serve and protect. These bonuses would not be available for one agency to poach an officer from a neighboring agency in North Carolina. And to make sure officers in other states know about how great North Carolina is, a public service and out-of-state recruiting campaign is called for. If we can recruit officers who are already working in other states, they can hit the ground running here.
I’m also advocating to expand my office’s Criminal Justice Fellows program to all 100 counties. As a CJ Fellow, a young person in North Carolina can go to community college and the state will fully forgive their student loans after they work in law enforcement in our state for four years. I thank the legislature for authorizing this initiative my office championed.
In addition to getting officers into the profession at the beginning of their careers, we need to welcome those veterans who want to stay on the job but not jeopardize their retirement. North Carolina needs to eliminate the pension penalty. This way, retired officers who want to keep serving their communities can come back to work without hurting their retirement benefits.
For the officers already on the job, we need to support them so they don’t turn in their badges. Law enforcement is a tough job so we need to offer specific, tailored mental health and wellness resources that help address the unique and difficult challenges officers face on the job. When peace officers run into crises and answer distressing calls every day, only to do it again the next day, it’s incumbent upon us to give them the tools they need to manage their mental health and well-being. We also need to incentivize education and training opportunities to help officers develop a career pathway so they’ll be more likely to stay on the job.
This law enforcement recruitment and retention package would make North Carolinians safer from crime. Its cost is about $23 million out of a $30 billion state budget. Unfortunately, the recent budget the General Assembly passed does not fund most of these measures. We all say that we support law enforcement, but I believe that we need to put our money where our mouth is. My team and I will keep fighting to support law enforcement in next year’s budget because our work to keep the public safe never stops.