SBI Independence Addressed In, Of All Things, A Budget Bill - Sparrow Law Firm

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation may move from the Department of Justice to the governor’s office. If you recall from past posts, one of the criticisms of the SBI — especially following the News & Observer’s report about the questionable practices in the crime lab’s handling of evidence — has been that it is not independent of the state’s law enforcement arm. What strikes commentators as odd about this proposal is that it is part of the Senate budget bill.

According to Sen. Thom Golsby, R.-New Hanover, the move is about saving money, not about the relationship between prosecutors and the state’s forensic experts. By putting the agency under the direct supervision of Gov. Pat McCrory, the state would save on training and administrative costs.

In a nod toward creating a more independent agency, the proposal does call for a change to the appointment process for the director. The governor would appoint the director, and the General Assembly would confirm the appointment. The director would serve a 10-year term, but not at the pleasure of the governor: Once the director is confirmed, the governor would not have the authority to fire him or her.

Not everyone warmed to any of part of the proposal. Opponents — and the opposition tends to run along party lines — expressed their concerns that the governor would be in charge of the very office charged with investigating corruption in state government.

Opponents noted as well that the move would effectively combine the operations of the SBI and the Department of Public Safety, which also reports directly to the governor. According to the DPS website, the department secretary is “the sole representative on the Governor’s Cabinet for the state’s law enforcement, correction and emergency response community.”

Finally, critics assert that cost savings would likely come from staff cuts — “consolidating positions.” The SBI is already short-handed, so it is unlikely that any cost savings would improve the agency’s efficiency or effectiveness.

Source: WRAL, “Proposed SBI move controversial,” Mark Binker, May 29, 2014