WEDNESDAY, APRIL 26, 2000, 1:30 P.M.


With thousands of laws to administer, the Justice System has come a long way from the simple, straightforward days of the 10 Commandments. Moses and his followers didn't worry about hog lagoons spilling into waterways, Styrofoam wrappers flung by the roadside, children carrying guns, speeding motorists, or equal rights for women. They were more concerned with famine and pestilence.

The children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness and found the Promised Land. We have traveled to the moon and back, conquering outer space but not inner space. We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We have higher incomes, but lower morals. We've split atoms but not prejudices. We've multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.

How do we make our communities safe? Hire more policemen? Put more people in jail? Give them longer prison sentences? More recreational programs? Better education? Mentoring programs? Job training? More truancy officers? Community policing? Ending police brutality? Sensitivity training? Partnerships with the nonprofit agencies? All of these things will help reduce crime, but a deeper answer includes not only tolerance but an appreciation of racial and ethnic origins, respect for self, respect for community, and an eye to our future generations.

In Shakespeare's Henry IV, the ailing king is troubled by the civil unrest in England and his son's riotous ways with Sir John Falstaff. How do we, like King Henry, "…out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety."

Like Moses, King Henry and Shakespeare, we need to set a worthy stage for our progeny. We have our work cut out for us. One thing is clear, law enforcement - the justice system- cannot do the job alone. Government cannot do the job alone. It requires the cooperation of government and business, the community, the schools, families and the churches and the competing agencies of government.

We must learn from the experiences of others - find out what works and what does not work, and then choose those things that work although others may seem easier and even more popular. We all need to work together. If Columbine and the other school shootings weren't enough, Monday's shooting at the Washington Zoo should be the final wake-up call. How do we turn children's weapons into plowshares? Why has their innocence been lost?

We could blame it on drugs. Look at Robert Louis Stevenson's work, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The point of a needle and the squeezing of a noxious drug into his arm brought the worst out in the goodly Dr. Jekyll. As one reviewer said, it is one of the most horrific depictions of the human potential for evil ever written. Dr. Jekyll eschewed the rulings of his high court and suffered the consequences of his dangerous experiment.

The highest number of cases heard in North Carolina's Superior Courts are drug cases, about 31%. Murders comprise less than 1%. Substance abuse and crime seem to go hand-in-hand. All the criminal justice agencies should be partners in solving this devastating problem. The State Drug Treatment Court is one example of a collaborative system initiative that started as a pilot program in 1996. It has been made permanent in some districts and is being evaluated for expansion. In addition to intensive treatment, chemically dependent offenders are given random drug tests to hold them accountable while in the one-year program.

The state court system has found other ways to help serve communities more efficiently and effectively. The Family Court pilot program has expanded to six counties to bring multiple issues in front of one judge who becomes better attuned to the entire family picture.

For young children, 3,000 Guardian ad Litem volunteers investigate their cases by talking to school principals, teachers, neighbors and other family members and bring before the judge a more accurate depiction of the child's case, whether it be a simple adoption or an abuse case.

North Carolina has grown by one million people in the last decade. This has caused a tremendous overload on our court system whose budget has not increased exponentially. We need to bring our courts up to current technological standards, and we are hopeful the members of the General Assembly will do just that. We have no more fingers to put in the dike.

The world-renown Gartner Group released their study in February recommending $60 to $95 million over the next five years to bring our court system to where it should already be technologically.

We see what technology can do. I-95 is one of the busiest corridors from New York to Miami. Now, speeding motorists can expect an electronic citation instead of a pink ticket if they speed through Cumberland County where the pilot program is underway. E-citations automatically send the arresting officer's information from his car's laptop computer to the AOC mainframe and then to the courthouse. This will save an enormous amount of time and paperwork for both the officers and the clerk of court's office.

A new Magistrate's System is underway in 38 counties. With a few simple clicks on his computer, a magistrate can draw up a warrant instantly using selections of pre-written descriptions. The new Magistrate's System will also feed information into a main database so that outstanding warrants can be accessed immediately from any county. Oftentimes, if a person is picked up in one county, the officer doesn't know that he may be wanted in another county. These technological advances will make our highways and streets safer for the officers and for the public. We owe our citizens that safety. These are tools that will help build safe communities for the 21st Century.

There are many more - and you will explore them at this conference today, tomorrow and Friday. We hope that you will go away inspired to work together for the present day good and for safer communities in the 21st Century.

Like King Henry, when his errant son turned out to be a splendid ruler, we too can expect our children to turn out okay in the end. It's that expectation of good that keeps us all going.