Opinion: Daily Journal

Ditch the DMV Police

RALEIGH – Attorney General Roy Cooper appears to be rising to the challenge of the unfolding scandal in the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. Particularly in the “enforcement” branch of the DMV, there is compelling evidence of political favoritism, corruption, and the use of jobs and promotions to extort campaign funds from officers.

Cooper has called for federal help in concluding the investigation, presumably soon. Local district attorneys have finally made some noises about prosecutions. Given what we already know (the rumor mills in Western North Carolina and Raleigh hint of far worse) these prosecutions should probably include not just the small fry but also folks higher up in hierarchy of the government.

A legal response, though warranted, is insufficient. North Carolina policymakers should also take steps to remove the potential for abuse and clarify the lines of authority in state law enforcement. An idea we at the John Locke Foundation are going to pitch in our forthcoming alternative budget for the state is to eliminate the DMV enforcement unit altogether as part of a comprehensive reorganization of public safety functions.

Basically, we propose to combine the Highway Patrol (now under the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety), Alcohol Law Enforcement (also under Crime Control, though most of this function should simply be ended), the State Bureau of Investigation (now under the attorney general’s office), and DMV enforcement into a single North Carolina State Police. This would not only save money, through elimination of duplicative administrative positions and offices, but also work to professionalize areas of state law enforcement that have long dumping grounds for political operatives and second cousins.

More broadly, we should emulate the commonwealth of Virginia and merge all law enforcement, correction, and emergency management activities – now scattered over four separate departments – into a single Department of Public Safety with a single Cabinet-level secretary. It is long past time for North Carolina to enter the 20th century – we’ll get to the 21st eventually – by shedding the bureaucratic baggage of the past.

Another reform that would help avoid problems like the current DMV scandal would be to prohibit state employees, at least in areas such as law enforcement, from making contributions to political campaigns. There is nothing tyrannical about this; no one is forced to apply for these jobs. Giving up the right to give campaign donations isn’t much to ask of a potential officer, and indeed most would probably welcome such a legal protection against the kind of undue political pressure that is apparently rampant in DMV and elsewhere.

These ideas have been floated before, but never against such a backdrop of political corruption. Let’s see who protests against them, and look beyond their flimsy rationalizations to glimpse what may be really going on.