Originally in The Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald
July 8, 2016

Improving treatment for substance abusers in the Roanoke Valley and other rural communities is a priority for the Democratic candidate for state attorney general.

That candidate, Josh Stein, also addressed the need to improve the relationship between law enforcement agencies and their communities.

Both topics were key parts of a discussion Stein, a former state senator (he resigned earlier this year to focus on his attorney general campaign) for four years and senior deputy attorney general for eight years, had with local community leaders during lunch Thursday at Logan’s Roadhouse in Roanoke Rapids. The candidate took time to discuss his platform with the group, which included Weldon Mayor Julia Meacham and Halifax County Board of Commissioners Chairman Vernon Bryant, and answer questions.

In the wake of two recent police shootings of black men, in Baton Rouge, La., and Falcon Heights, Minn., Stein addressed the importance for police departments to employ modern technology, like body cameras, and reflect the racial makeup of their communities.

“I think that having healthy relationships between law enforcement and the community is essential to the healthy fabric of the community because both share the same interest, which is public safety,” he said. “… We have to have excellent training for law enforcement; use of technology, like body cameras and dashboard cameras, which hold law enforcement and the public accountable because you have a recording of what actually happened; and we need to have law enforcement departments that reflect the diversity of the community they serve.”

Some of the rural police and sheriff departments that operate in Halifax and Northampton counties may not have the funding for body cameras and other pieces of technology, Stein admitted. For communities with the interest and will to get them, he said, there are federal and state programs to receive additional resources and the state assembly can provide funding through legislation. Ultimately, he said, the state can’t provide funding for every department, but it can provide assistance.

During the meeting Bryant told Stein some of the specific issues the community faced were bullying, in and out of school, and youth crime. He also expressed concern about the ability of small communities to address substance abuse and mental health issues.

“Substance abuse is a real problem in local communities, we don’t have the funds to provide treatment locally,” Bryant said. “Along with substance abuse you have a serious mental health problem as well.”

The former state senator agreed with Bryant, and said one of his priorities if he takes office is addressing the scourge of prescription drug and opioid abuse.

“Even though there are services available (for substance abuse treatment) in Raleigh, there’s nowhere enough to meet the needs, and I know that’s very much true here in Halifax County,” Stein said. “I absolutely want to be part of a public discussion about what are our priorities, do we think it’s a better investment to spend a few thousand dollars providing substance abuse treatment … versus spending tens of thousands of dollars to imprison them?”

Stein also took time to address HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill,” and said it had to be repealed because it was purely discriminatory, detrimental to equality, and tarnished the reputation of the state.

As a former deputy attorney general, Stein said to those in attendance he believes he’s the most-qualified candidate running for the office. On top of his experience, Stein said he had raised more money through private donations than anyone else running for statewide public office, besides gubernatorial candidates.

Stein will continue his campaigning across the state next week, with a stop in Winston-Salem. The 2016 North Carolina general election will be held on Nov. 8. Stein will face Republican candidate, State Sen. Buck Newton. Both are seeking to replace current Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, who is running for governor.