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Attorney General Josh Stein on law enforcement's struggle to recruit and retain officers

Attorney General Josh Stein (left) and WHQR News Director Ben Schachtman (right).
Attorney General Josh Stein's Office
Attorney General Josh Stein (left) and WHQR News Director Ben Schachtman (right).

Nationwide, law enforcement agencies are struggling with serious vacancies. WHQR’s Ben Schachtman spoke with Attorney General Josh Stein, who is now running for governor, about how North Carolina is dealing with the issue.

Extended interview with Attorney General Josh Stein
Attorney General Josh Stein spoke with WHQR News Director Ben Schachtman while visiting Wilmington to promote retention and recruitment strategies for law enforcement officers.

According to Stein’s office,over 500 fewer recruits took the basic law enforcement exam than in 2019, while retirements and resignations rose dramatically (45% and 18% respectively, according to a national survey). Part of that, Stein noted, is that many of the roughly 100,000 law enforcement officers who joined the ranks of departments across the country as part of the 1994 Clinton Crime Bill are now hanging up their badges and guns.

One obvious approach is increased compensation, Stein said.

“One way you do it, is by paying people," he said.

Stein also wants to poach talent from other states.

“We suggest the state come up with a signing bonus, also engage in a marketing marketing campaign to other states to let people know how wonderful life is here in North Carolina. And not everyone knows how beautiful Wilmington is," he said.

Stein also touted bills in the general assembly that would remove pension penalties for returning officers (a bill that's still in the Senate), repay community college loans for students who go into law enforcement (a bill that moved from the House to the Senate), and allow civilian crash responders to free up time for sworn officers (a bill that just passed in the Senate and House and is now headed to Governor Roy Cooper's desk, where it's expected to be signed).

Then there’s the issue of retaining mid-career talent. Stein says there need to be new efforts to support officers, who face a host of problems, from the stress of dealing with mental health calls to dealing with increased scrutiny — and sometimes hostility — in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

At the same time, Stein — whose office has prosecuted officers for misconduct — also says accountability is important.

“I know that a lot of law enforcement feels put out from the protests that happened after the killings of a few years ago … So it is a tough job, and they deserve all the thanks in the world. But we can also expect them to treat everybody fairly. But I do believe we can do both of those things," Stein said.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.