Yet more troubling events in Asheville have prompted renewed calls for the General Assembly to reconsider and pass House Bill 643 — bipartisan legislation intended to extend “whistleblower protection” to full-time certified law enforcement officers at both the city and county level.
Forty-four officers of the Asheville Police Department (nearly a quarter of their force) delivered a four-page petition on October 16 to Police Chief William Anderson demanding the APD’s leadership problems be addressed immediately and it outlined how problems at the department are creating a threat to public safety. Several veteran officers have also called for Anderson to resign.
The petition came on the heels of an investigation by WLOS Channel 13 News exposing problems that included an officer shortage, morale issues and expired radar guns. According to the report, although only 44 officers signed the petition, “twice that number have endorsed it but will not add their signatures for fear of retaliation.”
Those supporting this change to the law have argued that local law enforcement should have the same guarantees the state and federal law enforcement enjoy. The North Carolina Police Benevolent Association (NCPBA), the state’s largest law enforcement association, is in favor of the bill and worked with House members to get it introduced last year. According to a statement released on October 20, The NCPBA’s Mountain Chapter has asked City Council to investigate “possible unlawful malfeasance.” NCPBA President Randy Byrd went on to say that “The Asheville Police Department officers that have come forward to allege possible corruption by Chief Anderson deserve to have their jobs protected. They protect the citizens of Asheville every day. They deserve no less.” He added, “We are calling on the General Assembly to act on this important legislation as soon as they come back into session.”
HB643 would protect municipal police officers and deputy sheriffs from being disciplined, demoted, or fired for reporting violation of state and federal law, fraud, misappropriation of state and local government resources, substantial and specific danger to the public health and safety, gross mismanagement, a gross waste of monies, or gross abuse of authority.1
These kinds of safeguards have been available for many years at the federal level, and whistleblower protection has been the law for state employees since 1989.
Fired officers could go to court if they were subject to retaliation for reporting corruption. A court can order an injunction, damages, reinstatement of the county law enforcement officer, the payment of back wages, full reinstatement of fringe benefits and seniority rights, costs, reasonable attorneys’ fees, or any combination of these.
If an application for a permanent injunction is granted, the officer would be awarded costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees. If in an action for damages the court finds that the officer was injured by a willful violation of HB643, the court must award as damages three times the amount of actual damages plus costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees against the person or employing agency found to be in violation.
Critics of the reform, including the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police and the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, say the measure in unnecessary. They lobbied vigorously against the bill, which was ultimately killed by just two votes in March 2013.
- Southern States Police Benevolent Association, “NCPBA calls for Whistleblower Protection”