At first glance, the gleaming, black, 2007 Dodge Charger – with the word “POLICE” emblazoned on gray stripes along the top of the hood – could be mistaken for a North Carolina State Highway Patrol cruiser.
But look closer and you’ll see that North Carolina’s state flag and seal have been affixed to the vehicle. And the words “North Carolina General Assembly POLICE” are prominently featured on either side of the car.
Yes, the state General Assembly has its own police department and its own police cars – including one that’s been parked nearly every day in front of the state Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh since spring.
The goal of the department is to “provide security and protection for legislators, staff, visitors and property of the State legislative complex and throughout the state during special events,” Capt. Wesley Stiltner with the General Assembly Police wrote in an email to The News & Observer.
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“This is similar to gubernatorial travel,” Stiltner said, explaining that the force helps protect legislators when they travel across the state. “Local law enforcement is involved when the governor visits other parts of the state, but he still retains his own protective detail from the State Highway Patrol wherever he goes.”
The daily jurisdiction for the police force, which has 20 sworn officers, is a two-and-a-half block area on the legislative grounds that includes West Jones and Lane streets where the Legislative Building sits, along with N. Salisbury Street where the Legislative Office Building is located.
The General Assembly Police are separate from the State Capitol Police that are responsible for state government property in Raleigh. That department has 58 sworn officers.
State Capitol Police Chief Glen Allen described the mission of the General Assembly Police as “pretty unique.”
“It’s mostly the General Assembly,” he said. “We don’t work in the General Assembly unless they ask for our support.”
The General Assembly force was the lead agency during Moral Mondays, a series of demonstrations that started in 2013 at the General Assembly to protest actions by state legislators. The weekly demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience led to hundreds of arrests inside the Legislative Building.
The department relied on other agencies, the State Capitol and Raleigh police, the Highway Patrol and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office during Moral Mondays, when the volume of arrests became “unmanageable,” said Martin Brock, chief of the General Assembly Police.
The chief said the department investigates threats to legislators, staff or members of their immediate families. But arrests for that offense don’t happen very often.
“The last arrest made on a threat to a legislator was in June 2011,” Brock said.
The General Assembly Police, created in 1975 by legislative statute, has evolved over the years, especially with ongoing technological developments. The agency’s jurisdiction can span from Murphy to Manteo, if legislators travel to official functions such as Town Hall meetings or public events, Brock added.
Last year, state legislators allocated an operating budget of $1,483,956 to the police department. That figure was increased this year to $1,869,329 because of new security funding for the entire Legislative Building, Stiltner said.
The agency has two marked vehicles and one unmarked vehicle. They are a 2007 Chevrolet , an unmarked 2012 Chevrolet Impala and the aforementioned Dodge Charger.
“We have purchased older, high-mileage vehicles to ensure taxpayer money was used in the most efficient and low cost way as practicable,” Stiltner said.
The two marked cars have only been in service since May.
So, is there a crime-fighting reason the Charger is parked where state legislators, staff and visitors gather daily?
“The marked police cars are used to provide a law enforcement visual deterrent on the complex,” Stiltner answered, “We have found this to be effective.”
Thomasi McDonald: 919-829-4533, @thomcdonald