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North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association pushes training, mental health screening in report

The association representing North Carolina’s 100 sheriffs recommends expanding training, providing regular mental health screenings for deputies and closing loopholes that could make it difficult to move those involved in on-the-job misconduct out of law enforcement.

The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association released on Tuesday a report  on “law enforcement professionalism” developed by over a dozen sheriffs in the months following the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and demonstrations against racial injustice across the country.

The recommendations “are in an effort to create a law enforcement profession that will not tolerate racism and excessive force by law enforcement, and that will hold North Carolina law enforcement to a high standard,” reads the introduction of the 31-page report, which was circulated to all sheriffs for review before approval last month by the association’s executive committee.

The report urges all law enforcement agencies to set policies barring the use of chokeholds except in narrow, threatening situations. Floyd died as an officer kneeled on his neck. The sheriffs also want legislation passed by the General Assembly requiring the attorney general to develop a uniform definition and model policy on the use of force that also must be approved by the association and the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police.

But it recommends no changes to current policies related to school resource officers, the law directing how police body-worn camera footage is released and the doctrine of qualified immunity for officers in civil lawsuits challenging their conduct.

The association recommendations focused in part on improving training standards that officer candidates must complete to enter the profession. Applicants should be required to pass psychological screenings before deputy certification and regular screenings at least every three years following, the report said.

The sheriffs also want to prevent situations where law enforcement officers who commit misconduct — but resign quietly — are hired by another agency that isn’t aware of those past deeds. They want a law mandating an applicant’s former agency to release personnel records and internal investigative files to the department looking for a new hire.

A commission created by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, led by Attorney General Josh Stein and Associate Justice Anita Earls, and a state House committee also are examining whether similar law enforcement changes are warranted to address racial inequities.

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