WILMINGTON — Due largely to the bill-crafting of local State Senator Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), campus law enforcement officers at North Carolina’s public universities can now take classes for free.
SB390 was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper earlier this month. Both the House and Senate of the N.C. General Assembly voted unanimously in favor of the bill.
Letting campus law enforcement officers attend university classes without pay, the crux of the bill, was seen as a valuable recruiting tool for the University of North Carolina System at a time when the number of applicants to municipal police departments dwindles; at N.C. universities, the falloff in interest is even more stark.
The national average of the decline in policing applications is between 40% and 50%, while across campus departments in N.C., applications have fallen 80%, according to the UNC System.
“The ongoing vacancy rates for campus police departments can create a threat to maintaining safe and secure campus environments,” Lee told Port City Daily in a statement. “This bill gives them a tool that they can use to address this issue.”
Moreover, the UNC System had 82 unfilled positions across its police forces this spring, a vacancy rate of 16%.
Chris Bertram, UNCW interim police chief, said Wilmington’s campus force has had difficulty filling positions in the last several years.
“The number of applicants is down and many who are applying do not meet the minimum requirements that are set,” Bertram wrote in an email.
He added part of the reason for the drop-off in interest could be related to the “political climate with regard to policing,” may that many prospective applicants
“may be looking at the scrutiny that law enforcement is currently under and ask why they should subject themselves to that.”
The new law could assist UNCW’s department in retention, by enticing current officers with the prospect of a free education, Betram said. “Where I believe that it will be a very helpful recruiting tool for us is for those that have already decided they are going into law enforcement and are trying to decide between a campus department and a municipal or county one,” he wrote.
The new law will take effect this upcoming fall semester.
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