ROCKINGHAM — The police department has been unable to collect grant funding it was awarded last year because of a legal fight over the Trump administration’s efforts to discourage “sanctuary cities.”
The Rockingham Police Department applied for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant last summer to purchase 14 defibrillators to be kept in patrol cars in case of emergency. The department received a letter from Gov. Roy Cooper informing them that they had been approved for the grant in September, but the funds have still not come through.
Caroline Valand, executive director of the Governor’s Crime Commission, explained in a February memo to the GCC’s Grant Recipient Program Managers that the Byrne grant remains in “legal limbo.”
“(T)he Trump administration is seeking to use Byrne JAG funding … to encourage state and local communities to limit so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ by requiring grantees to certify compliance with USC Section 1373 before they can draw down their award,” Valand said.
USC Section 1373 states, “a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”
Sanctuary cities are municipalities that do not enforce certain immigration laws in order to protect families of undocumented immigrants from deportation for low-level offenses. Rockingham is not a sanctuary city, and North Carolina has been in compliance with federal law, according to Linda Ferster, constituent services director for U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte.
“(North Carolina) has not violated any laws and the governor has not held (the release of the funds) up. N.C. is compliant with all they require,” Ferster said in an emailed response to an inquiry by City Manager Monty Crump. “However, until it is battled out in the courts, they are not releasing any of the funding. (The Department of Public Safety has) even had meetings with (U.S. Attorney General Jeff) Sessions and he cannot expedite it either. (DPS) assured me that there is nothing our office, or any other Congressional office can do, even if (Pittenger) met with Mr. Sessions himself.”
The funds would have been available in October. There is $4.5 million in public safety funding withheld from North Carolina as a result of the dispute, according to GCC.
“You would think that they would deal with the (states and cities) that they’re having problems with and then let the ones that have been fair get their stuff,” Councilmember Gene Willard said.
RPD had already applied for the next round of Byrne grants when it found out that its previous grant was on hold, according to Chief Billy Kelly. The defibrillators would allow police officers, who are often the first on the scene, to save a victim from cardiac arrest. Currently, officers are trained to use CPR to revive someone, according to Kelly.
Rockingham police officers completed the training to use the defibrillators last Fall following the grant application being approved.
Councilmember Bennett Deane suggested finding some other way to fund the defibrillators, but the board was worried that the court could make a decision in the near future that would render any effort to come up with the funds themselves a waste.
“We haven’t done anything wrong so why are we being denied these funds?” Kelly queried.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]