North Carolina Sheriffs’ Recommend Sweeping Reforms From Hiring To ‘Use Of Force’ Policy

Nov 12, 2020

The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association has shared a series of recommendations to “improve the law enforcement profession” statewide.  BPR looks at efforts around transparency: 

The association is made up of all 100 sheriffs in the state. A group of 10 started working on this report after the death of George Floyd this summer. 

“I’m excited about the whole thing to be honest,” said Miller.  

That’s Sheriff Quentin Miller of Buncombe County who represented the Western region (10th district).

“I've been doing this over 30 years now, and this time we live in now, we've been held more accountable – and rightfully so. We work for the citizens of this county,” said Miller.

The 31-page report identified several areas where law enforcement procedures including recruitment, certification and 'use of force' can be improved for police, sheriff’s offices and others. 

“I learned a lot from the other sheriffs there and some of the things that they had faced. And what was amazing for me is we're talking about white and black sheriffs. Democrat and Republican sheriffs, right?,” said Miller. “And so it was just, mhh, it made you feel good to know that we're moving. And again, I think all of us know that this is just one step that has to be taken.”

One recommendation that might look familiar to Buncombe County residents is the addition of an officer’s duty to intervene and report if they see another officer using excessive force. Miller said the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office implemented this policy in late August.

Another recommendation is for a legal definition of 'use of force.' Right now, there isn’t one, hampering efforts to track it.

“Because I think when you draw your weapon, that to me is a 'use of force,' right? Because we're bringing that weapon, we're presenting it, right? In whatever capacity. So that's the 'use of force.' We haven't always defined that as a 'use of force.' We haven't always documented when we drew our weapon,” said Miller.  

 You can also view the embedded document here.

This year, there have been a few incidents with law enforcement in Buncombe County: In June, Asheville Police Department(APD) charged and suspended an officer for excessive force and made national headlines after the destruction of a medic tent during Black Lives Matter protest. In October, Miller fired Deputy Tyler McDonald for inappropriate personal conduct on duty. There have also been an ‘unprecedented’ number of resignations from the force, according to APD.

Other recommendations in the report, include statewide requirements for hiring and training. Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the Sheriffs' Association explains that because sheriff is an elected office, each county is run a bit differently. 

“Currently, it’s not quote 'all over the page' but where there are variances, we saw room for improvement,” said Caldwell.

Caldwell says one recommended change deals with how personnel files can be released when an officer resigns.  The report singles out law enforcement officers who quietly resign and take their misconduct baggage to another job, unbeknownst to their new supervisor.  Caldwell hopes new laws will create more transparency in the hiring process.

“Then the sheriffs, police chief and state agency law enforcement officials will all know that not only is it okay to share that information with a new agency and with the standards commissions, but it is required,” said Caldwell.

Miller says that when these changes are made he will go back and check the personnel records of sheriff’s deputies in Buncombe County. Caldwell says this would be impractical to do for the entire state.

Caldwell explains two other tracking systems are recommended. First, an early warning system to track factors such as misconduct and mental health as well as a second that is an online database of “decertified” law enforcement officers. That data is currently available, but only by phone.

“Similar to the database that's available on lawyers. You can go to the state bar website and look up any lawyer to see if they are licensed, or have ever been licensed, or have been disbarred. We have the database but we just want to make it more accessible for everyone,” says Caldwell.

The report also dives into “deadly force” statistics (which are officially defined) and says that of approximately 468 officer involved shooting investigations conducted from 2010 to present, none of the officers were found to have committed a violation of North Carolina criminal law. Criminal charges were sought against four officers but none were found guilty.

Here’s the breakdown of those four cases from the report: Two of those cases were presented to a grand jury and no true bill was returned, one case resulted in a jury trial for voluntary manslaughter where the officer was found not guilty, and in one case, an officer was tried for voluntary manslaughter, the jury deadlocked, and the district attorney ultimately dismissed the case.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls, co-chairs of the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice shared their support for the report in a statement on Thursday: 

“We are encouraged to see the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association’s embrace of a number of commonsense reforms to improve law enforcement in our state. Specifically, we appreciate the Sheriffs’ Association’s recommendation to require a duty to intervene for officers, to ban the use of chokeholds, and to encourage additional mental health screenings for officers," reads the statement.

Both the state’s law enforcement standards commissions and the General Assembly will receive the report, and decide whether to turn these recommendations into rules.