AG Josh Stein meets with Chatham leaders to talk law enforcement


PITTSBORO — Many of Chatham County’s elected officials and various municipal administrations came together on Monday afternoon for a round-table discussion with N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein. 

Stein has served as N.C.’s Attorney General since 2017 and recently announced his 2024 run to take the governor’s seat for the next election. 

The group came together to discuss various issues facing the criminal justice system — from lulls in the hiring of law enforcement officers to new funds coming from the opioid lawsuit settlements Stein and his office have spearheaded. 

“We've worked with the sheriff … the Chiefs of Police and others in law enforcement to come up with a package to try to help address recruitment and retention challenges,” Stein told the group. 

Sheriff Mike Roberson was present at Monday’s conversation, and he provided some insight on some of the challenges the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office has experienced, specifically in regard to filling vacant positions. 

“We have 14 certified law enforcement position vacancies, with no applications, and then we have 13 detention positions open, and we have a couple of applications on that,” Roberson said. “But we're not getting enough people to apply to even sift through … To be honest with you, we're behind on the number of deputies that we have. We need more deputies, but I can’t honestly go asking for more deputies if I can’t fill the positions that I've got.”

Stein said there are several bills filed at the N.C. General Assembly which could help close the gap in law enforcement vacancies. One of these bills, House Bill 140, was signed into law and allows for police departments in the state to create civilian investigative teams, specifically for responses to traffic crashes and incidents. 

“On average, it takes that officer an hour to handle the paperwork involved in the crash,” Stein said. “If we can have civilians do that, that frees up certain sworn officers to be able to do the work that we all want them to do, which is to investigate crime.”

Siler City Town Manager Hank Raper was also present for Monday’s conversation. Raper broke down what he and his staff have done to help fill vacancies at the Siler City Police Department. 

As previously reported, Raper said the town approved an officer recruitment program, where they town will hire inexperienced officers to complete Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) and will pay them throughout their 640-hour-long required courses. 

The town also increased starting pay, salaries for current employees and created a $5,000 signing bonus to incentivize new officers — things believed to have helped fill long-time vacancies, leaving the department with only one opening in its patrol division. 

“One of the things was trying to put even more funding into the police department, which is not just an infusion of additional resources, but trying to efficiently and effectively spend the resources that we have,” Raper said. “It's not 100% successful, but I think if two out of three work out for you, that's a pretty good number. The alternative, however, is paying overtime and burning out the officers that you have so you have to accept some costs there and go into that.”

Another hurdle law enforcement offices in Chatham County and across the state face is getting youth interested in law enforcement as a career. Chatham County Board of Commissioners Chair Karen Howard said one of the concerns from potential recruits is the nature of the job. 

“I think we have to be having a different kind of conversation about investing in these professions …  If we want people like us to send our kids and say to our kids what a wonderful profession (law enforcement) is,” she said. “We need smart, thoughtful, kind and compassionate people going into it.”

District Attorney Jeff Nieman also shared a similar sentiment as Howard, saying people who are involved in the criminal justice system who aren’t police officers should advocate for those careers more. 

“The idea of holding accountable law enforcement officers who don't uphold the highest standards is not an opposite to being pro cop and upholding the profession — They coincide,” Nieman said. “Both of those things are about raising up our expectations, honor and tribute that we pay to that profession … Those of us who aren't in law enforcement in particular, need to be talking in our communities about what an important, honorable profession law enforcement is.”