Politics & Government

NC public safety agency says state budget has hampered terrorism probes

Frank Perry, Secretary of the Department of Public Safety, right, listens as Jimmy Broughton, Gov. McCrory's deputy chief of staff, speaks about the state's Syrian refugee issue during the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations meeting at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh, NC on Nov. 18, 2015.
Frank Perry, Secretary of the Department of Public Safety, right, listens as Jimmy Broughton, Gov. McCrory's deputy chief of staff, speaks about the state's Syrian refugee issue during the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations meeting at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh, NC on Nov. 18, 2015. cseward@newsobserver.com

The head of the state’s public safety agency Thursday criticized state legislators for what he called a “dangerous” and shortsighted move that has hampered efforts to detect and prevent crime, including terrorism, in North Carolina.

The budget lawmakers adopted this year reshuffled the state Department of Public Safety’s law enforcement division – by moving law enforcement agencies that were in it elsewhere – and eliminated the position of the commissioner who was in charge of the division. The changes were added to the budget during final negotiations that went late into the night in September, and came as a surprise to the department.

Frank Perry, secretary of public safety, said in an interview that his agency had been building new information-sharing connections with local and federal agencies that have now been disrupted by the budget changes.

“This is an important thing in this mean and dangerous world,” he said.

Legislators say the budget reflected their ongoing effort to consolidate state government where possible to find savings. Lawmakers have taken steps to reorganize the public safety department in each of the past several years. Perry said consolidation is a good idea, but lawmakers should have consulted with law enforcement on how to go about it.

In October, Perry countered the budget requirements by eliminating the positions of two top officials – including that held by the wife of the chief budget-writer in the House – and brought back law enforcement commissioner Greg Baker in an expanded role. He said Baker has begun to pick up where he left off, but the overall reshuffling has led to less communication among agencies.

“What I had to do is do the best I could with the remnants we had without violating the statutes,” he said. “It’s been severely damaged.”

At the time, some lawmakers criticized him, saying it appeared vindictive and personal, with the secretary saving the job of a fellow former FBI agent to snub the legislature. Perry denied that was the motivation and said he didn’t know Baker prior to working at the department. He said, if anything, his agency’s aversion to engaging in the political process may have hurt its efforts in the legislature in recent years.

“People like me come and go,” he said. “This is not about personalities or persons. It’s about policy and protection. … It’s not about political clout or anything of that nature. I had to bring back the person who was responsible for that collaborative preventative model.”

We don’t have the luxury of stripping law enforcement. These are serious times.

Frank Perry

The secretary said every major terrorism event in this country has had a tie to North Carolina. He said 11 percent of ISIS cases and arrests made in the United States have been tied in some way to this state. Authorities have interviewed 174 individuals in North Carolina who are on the federal no-fly list, he said.

Perry said the department has been transitioning to a method that is called intelligence-based predictive law enforcement, a way of collecting and analyzing terrorist and criminal behavior by tying together disparate elements such as traffic stops or gun purchases. It involves far more extensive sharing of information among local, state and federal agencies, including working with 13 different federal task forces. Baker was heading up those efforts.

Perry said the new approach was a shift from simply responding to a crime scene to instead work to detect and prevent criminal enterprises. Much of the intelligence is gathered in the state’s prisons, he said.

He asserted that the new approach has prevented criminal and terrorist acts in this state.

“To think at midnight that we’re going to take out the division of law enforcement, which is the bridge for this preventive model from gangs to terrorism without warning, without consultation, without reason is truly misguided and dangerous,” he said.

That’s his job to hire and fire people, not ours.

Rep. Leo Daughtry

State legislators who put together that part of the budget took the secretary’s comments in stride.

Sen. Shirley Randleman, a Republican from Wilkesboro, said lawmakers are looking for efficiencies and will continue to examine that department.

Rep. Leo Daughtry, a Republican from Smithfield, said eliminating that position and division had been discussed among House and Senate justice and public safety committee members, who uniformly agreed it was a good idea.

“That’s his job to hire and fire people, not ours,” Daughtry said. “We thought it was the right thing to do. It was not a snap decision done in the night. It was done in the course of our deliberations.”

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO

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