A new bill rolled out by North Carolina Senate Republicans aims to punish local governments that defund the police.
The bill, The Law Enforcement Protection Act, would reduce funding to cities and counties that reallocate or reduce spending to law enforcement following Black Lives Matter’s call to defund the police after the death of George Floyd last year.
Senator Chuck Edwards proposed the bill to support law enforcement and maintain law and order, blaming the loss of officers in Asheville’s Police Department to a “lack of support” for police, according to a News & Observer report.
The phrase “Defunding the Police” has a variety of different interpretations, with some moderate supporters calling for a reallocation of funds to social services and other agencies, and others demanding a complete disbandment of police departments. In Minneapolis, for example, the City Council looks to replace the department with a new “public safety” department.
Senator Edwards believes that calls to defund the police are responsible for violence across the state. Asheville’s violent crime rate has increased by 16% over the last year as over 60 officers have left the department. He said, “Regretfully, this sentiment which is now turned into violent behavior, is no longer found just on the streets of Minneapolis, New York and Philadelphia. We’re seeing radical extremists launch vicious attacks on enforcing our laws right here in North Carolina.”
The bill applies to cities, counties, and towns that reduce their expenses for law enforcement by 1% of the government’s budget. The N.C. Police Benevolent Association issued a press supporting the bill, referring to the Asheville’s $770,000 budget cuts in September as the catalyst.
NC Division President Randy Byrd said, “This legislation is a necessary step to prevent elected officials from making harmful decisions that fail to support officers and their agencies. When you don’t support these officers and their agencies, it can lead to officers leaving in unprecedented numbers and violent crime increasing.”
However, many across the state are concerned about the bill.
A spokesman of the North Carolina league of municipalities said that local officials should make their own decisions regarding police budgets without the interference from state legislature, and believes that their may be unintended, negative effects from the bill.
“The legislation does not even provide for spikes in police budgets due to spending on equipment, police cars and the like. The result, over time, would likely be the opposite of its sponsors’ intent – any police budget increases will be minimal to avoid potential budget decreases in the following year,” Mooneyham said. He also maintained that since local officials are responsible to local taxpayers, the latter can vote them out if they don’t approve of their decisions.
Kevin Leonhard, executive director of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, also expressed concern, agreeing that local issues should be kept at a local level. He said, “We have strong concerns about this version of the bill moving forward. Further, it seems this issue developed out of a very specific local issue in Buncombe County and Asheville, and that issue should be resolved there instead of involving all 100 counties.”
A follow up bill, Senate Bill 101, was proposed as well, which states that local law enforcement must determine the identity and immigration status of anyone booked into county or city jail on a felony charge or impaired driving charge. If they can’t, they must request U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) to do so, who will pick up the detainee in 48 hours if found that they are in the U.S. illegally.
This bill is also facing criticism from state and local law enforcement agencies who say that cooperation with ICE hurts their relationship with Latino communities.