Durham News

Cost cools legislators on stiffer gun-theft sentencing

Sheriff Mike Andrews’ proposal to stiffen sentences for firearms theft got a cool reception last week from Durham’s legislative delegation.

“I would be opposed to us going further at this time,” state Sen. Floyd McKissick said.

The legislature lengthened felony sentences in 2013, McKissick pointed out, and available data is “too preliminary to provide any accurate assessment” of its effect, he said.

“We’re up in the air on this,” said state Rep. H.M. “Mickey” Michaux, who also said Andrews’s idea would “cost you an arm and a leg.”

Andrews wants the legislature to raise firearm larceny and the sale or receipt of a stolen firearm to a Class E felony: the same level of crime as shooting into occupied property, assaulting a law-enforcement officer with a firearm and second-degree kidnapping.

Currently, firearm larceny is a Class H felony, the same level as witness intimidation, embezzling less than $100,000 and poaching a Venus flytrap.

Andrews’ proposal also adds 72 months to prison terms for felonies committed with a stolen firearm. Andrews has said firearm theft is increasing in Durham and he thinks longer sentences would be a deterrent.

The county commissioners included the proposal in a set of legislative goals approved last summer and asked support from the state Association of County Commissioners.

The association, though, declined to back it. The Durham City Council also rejected including it in the city’s advocacy agenda for the General Assembly session, voting 4-3 against it despite support by Mayor Bill Bell.

McKissick, a member of the state sentencing commission, said cost is a consideration whenever legislation proposes longer prison sentences. “We pay about $30,000 a year to keep folks over in the Department of Corrections,” he said.

State Sen. Mike Woodard said he had consulted the legislature’s legal and fiscal staffs about Andrews’s request.

“The fiscal staff did some very basic math,” Woodard said. Last year, Woodard said, there were 114 cases statewide to which Andrews’s proposal could have applied.

“Of those, 15 percent actually received some active sentence,” he said, and the extra sentencing Andrews proposes would have cost “somewhere upwards of $3 million for ... 16 or 17 cases it would have affected.”

Woodard said he expects some more definitive data from the legislative staff this week.

“We can kind of guess in the dark about some of this stuff, but that data, I think, will help us,” he said.

Police information

Christina Fountain, the wife of a Durham police officer, asked the commissioners and legislators to support removing officers’ home addresses from public websites such as those for local tax and voter registration records.

The legislators were supportive when she made the same request at their meeting with the City Council on Jan. 16. Fountain said the online records make it easy to find where officers and their families live for “John Q Public having a grudge.”

The state House unanimously approved a bill directing the state courts commission to study requiring local governments to allow law-enforcement and court personnel to have personal information removed from city and county websites ( nando.com/sb78).

That bill died in a state Senate committee, but it could be re-introduced this year.

As a short-term measure, County Attorney Lowell Siler said, the county may be able to “administratively” have tax-record photos of officers’ homes electronically altered to remove images of take-home patrol cars in their driveways.

Fountain had specifically complained about the photographs.

“She has made a very good argument as to why there’s a need to safeguard her family,” Siler said. “The issue is, what’s going to happen in Raleigh.”