North Carolina Attorney General Seeks Funds To Create Fetanyl, Cold Case Units

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said Wednesday he wants additional staff for his office to combat fentanyl trafficking and to solve longstanding sexual assault crimes, as well as more funds to help law enforcement agencies recruit and retain officers.

Stein, who is also the Democratic nominee for governor this fall, held a news conference with several police chiefs and sheriffs to highlight his legislative priorities during this year's General Assembly session.

“We’re facing serious public safety issues that threaten the well-being of people in our communities,” Stein said. “There are real, concrete steps that the legislature can take to help us address these issues.”

Stein said he would like to hire several attorneys for a “fentanyl control unit” that would assist local prosecutors in what are considered time-consuming and complicated trafficking and overdose cases. There were nearly 3,400 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in North Carolina in 2022, Stein said.

And he wants a handful of new staff to establish a “cold case unit" within the Department of Justice. He said the recent elimination of the backlog for testing thousands of sexual assault kits in police custody has led to additional matches between the DNA collected and profiles in the national DNA database.

A unit of experienced sex-crime officers “can assist overburdened local law enforcement officers and breathe new life into these cold cases,” Stein said.

He also presented a series of proposals to address vacancy challenges in police departments and jails, as well as struggles to attract workers to the law enforcement profession.

This package, which his office said would cost $23 million, would include pay bonuses for graduates of the Basic Law Enforcement Training program and bonuses and relocation stipends for out-of-state or former military police who want to work in the field in North Carolina.

He also supports bills that would allow retired officers to return to work without harming their retirement pay and for veteran officers to remain on the job without threatening a special financial benefit.

Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said that there's more than 80 vacancies for working at the county's detention center, which currently holds nearly 400 people.

“It stands to reason that I need the appropriate staff and adequate staff to operate this facility in a safe and secure manner,” Birkhead said. Some of his patrol deputies fill in at the jail as a stopgap.

While Republicans who control the General Assembly are often at odds with Stein, lawmakers and the attorney general have advanced bipartisan anti-crime legislation in the past.

Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson is Stein's rival for governor in November. Robinson has expressed opposition to “soft-on-crime” policies that release dangerous criminals into the streets. In a 2023 speech aired on statewide TV, Robinson said police deserve respect, need proper training and equipment to deescalate dangerous situations, and shouldn't be treated like “political pawns.”