This report was made possible through a grant from The Pulitzer Center to the North Carolina News Collaborative, a coalition of 23 news organizations across the state.
Lawmakers have pushed in recent years to eliminate differences in the requirements to become a sheriff deputy or police officer.
But one major distinction will persist until next summer.
For decades, newly hired deputies have been granted the power to arrest before completing basic law enforcement training. Police, though, can’t carry a badge and gun until they graduate, according to state codes and interviews with the officials who enforce them.
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The training spans four months, and students must log 640 hours in classes covering everything from motor vehicle laws to proper arresting techniques. Graduates pass a test at the end of the training.
In North Carolina, sheriffs have their own commission overseeing the training and certification of deputies. A separate commission handles the same for police and state-wide law enforcement.
At a meeting in June, the sheriffs’ commission voted to require that deputies complete basic law enforcement training before being sworn in. The requirement starts next summer.
North Carolina is the only state in the country that allows sheriffs to police their own, according to the North Carolina Department of Justice website. In other states, a single commission sets training standards and certifications for all law enforcement, according to members of both commissions.
Legislators have pushed for more consistency between the commissions in recent years.
As part of a massive criminal justice reform package passed last year, lawmakers ordered the two law enforcement commissions to square away any differences in their minimum standards to enter the law enforcement profession.
For much of the last year, members of the two commissions revised their rules to make them consistent. Among the changes: Sheriffs and chiefs can now hire anyone 20 or older. Deputies now have more days to report to the commission if they are charged with a crime.
Currently, state code requires deputies to complete basic law enforcement training within one year of being hired and sworn in. Other law enforcement officers must graduate from the training before being sworn in.
The sheriffs’ commission does not know how many sworn deputies are currently working without their basic law enforcement training complete, according to commission members.
Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. says he agrees with the decision to require deputies complete law enforcement training before being sworn in and says he has never had an active deputy who didn't complete the course.
"... We put the best product out in our community, and we will not release someone to work our streets until we are convinced they are ready," he said.
Sheriff Shelton White of Perquimans County, a member of the sheriffs’ commission, said that, in his office, he requires a training officer to supervise deputies hired and sworn in before they complete basic law enforcement training.
Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith also sometimes allows deputies to work before they complete their basic training.
Smith, a former highway patrolman, said he suspects the provision has existed to accommodate a reality. Sheriffs are elected every four years. Once elected, they sometimes face a “massive walkout” of deputies.
A sheriff cannot protect residents unless hires can happen quickly, he said. Counties often span vast territories, which can make coverage gaps dire, he said.
“A city is easier to patrol,” he said.
Randy Byrd, a former North Carolina Police Benevolent Association official, said allowing anyone to work in law enforcement without basic training was “insane.”
Basic law enforcement training teaches prospective law enforcement officers everything from how to detain a suspect to dispersing a crowd. Seasoned officers like Byrd call the training “critical.”