Gov. Roy Cooper made a stop at the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association Training Conference to thank the state’s top county enforcement officers for their work and to offer a few thoughts on how to make things better for the county lawmen.
Roughly 75 sheriffs were in attendance with other law enforcement representatives and family members at the three-day conference at the Riverfront Convention Center on South Front Street.
“Nothing is outside the scope of being sheriff of a county,” Cooper told the audience. “You are there to protect people from crime, to help young people, to respond to emergencies and disasters. You are looked upon as the rock that people depend upon. I’m grateful for the work that you do.”
He said that law enforcement has improved greatly through collaboration in the nation and the state since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Previously to 9/11 among local, state and federal law enforcement there were a lot of turf battles and a lot of disputes over who had control of what,” he said.
But after the attacks, “Law enforcement got together and said, ‘There’s not enough of us. We’ve got to get together and cover all the parameters.’ Since that time I believe we have seen law enforcement take this collaboration … and expand it to other areas, fighting the opioid crisis, making sure our schools are safe, working together to fight gangs.”
Cooper called for higher pay and benefits for law enforcement.
“It has never, never been harder to get law enforcement officers than it is today,” he said. “The 45-year retirement option that was put in place this year was a good first step, but we know that we have a long way to go.”
Cooper touched on school safety issues, stating that money has to be provided to hire more school resource officers.
“Many of these men and women serve as counselors and friends to the students,” he said. “They have a real positive effect on their lives.”
Cooper said he proposed $10 million in his budget toward hiring more SROs, but said “the legislature didn’t include it this time. We have to continue to make sure that you know we value resource officers.”
Cooper also called for more funding for mental health help in schools through counselor and nurses.
“I want to tell you, finally, that I appreciate your working collaboratively on fighting this opioid crisis,” he said. He emphasized the need for treatment as a means of reducing demand.
“You guys are the first to see people who have mental health issues or substance abuse issues and your options are too limited,” he said. “When you talk to that mom or that kid who overdosed … when you talk to the employer who’s trying to get people hired for jobs and too many fail the drug test … you know that we need to do something about it.
“We need to provide more treatment to reduce the demand, and I believe that you guys can make a difference.”