RALEIGH — Support for moving the State Bureau of Investigation under the governors control solidified Tuesday, as the proposal picked up support in the House and an administration official assured that the integrity of public corruption cases could be protected.
A key budget-writer said that the House spending plan would reflect the Senates budget provision taking the SBI out of Attorney General Roy Coopers justice department and putting it in Gov. Pat McCrorys Department of Public Safety.
Rep. Leo Daughtry, a Republican from Smithfield who is a co-chairman of the House budget committee on justice and public safety, said members drafting the House budget wanted to be sure the SBI would remain independent. Putting in place a director who is chosen by the governor and approved by the General Assembly for an eight-year term, as the Senate recommends, satisfies that concern, he said.
McCrory told reporters on Tuesday that Frank Perry, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, supports the move, and the two plan to meet soon to discuss it in detail.
He is strongly recommending consolidation of those resources to me, McCrory said.
Perry is a retired FBI agent who directed investigations at the state auditors office, worked with the state Ethics Commission, and was director of investigations and public affairs for a public ethics foundation he helped form.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Perry said the move reflects the direction law enforcement is headed nationally: consolidating in order to share intelligence quickly in a post-9/11 world, adding that he is the designated U.S. Homeland Security adviser for North Carolina. Perry said the two previous administrations considered the move during an era of Democratic rule, and that 41 other states have similar arrangements.
He said the SBI would still pursue the kinds of cases it does now: crimes against children, cybercrime, arson, theft of state property, and assist local agencies. In public corruption investigations initiated at the request of local district attorneys, Perry said, it makes sense for the attorney general to still oversee those cases, along with the U.S. Attorneys Office, through its special unit of prosecutors who assist district attorneys or replace them if they have been recused.
I would welcome that scrutiny, Perry said.
He said he favors the idea of a director appointed by the governor for a long term, and who can only be removed for drastic reasons. He said it was similar to how the FBI is structured. That would take a lot away from the argument that it is a political move, Perry said.
Cooper opposes the move, saying it would make the SBI less independent. A number of prosecutors and the N.C. Sheriffs Association are also opposed to moving the agency out of the Department of Justice.
Theres still time for both the full House and the Governor to support the wishes of law enforcement across North Carolina and stop this move, Coopers spokewoman, Noelle Talley, said Tuesday. The timing of this sudden shift jeopardizes the integrity of ongoing public corruption investigations.
The proposed move has raised concerns that it is politically motivated because it would shift the states premiere investigatory force, the State Crime Lab and 638 employees out from under a Democratic attorney general to a Republican governor both of whom could face each other in a gubernatorial campaign in 2016.
Staff writer John Frank contributed.