NC House advances police reform, bodycam video access bill

A significant criminal justice reform bill nears completion.

Posted Updated

Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina House approved a package of policing reforms Wednesday, including a new duty for officers to report excessive force and new databases – none of which would be public – that law enforcement agencies would use to track problem officers.
The House also tinkered again with proposed changes to the state's law on handling video recorded by police officers' body-worn and dashboard cameras, suggesting another way families of people badly hurt or killed by police could see footage of an incident. Lawmakers have been back and forth on this issue as the wide-ranging reform bill bounced around the General Assembly.

This latest language in Senate Bill 300 says a family member, or a representative, can request footage from a law enforcement agency via notarized form, and within three days, that agency must file a petition in Superior Court.

A judge would then review the video and decide, within seven business days of the petition filing, whether to let family see the video, to release an edited version or not release anything at all.

Anyone seen or heard in the video would be notified and allowed to be heard on the matter, as would the heads of law enforcement agencies involved, the local district attorney and the people requesting disclosure. If release is denied, the court would have to reconsider that decision no more than 20 business days later.

These changes deal with family member access, not with media or public access. Families would only be able to see the video, not take a copy. Recording the video, or disseminating it, would be a crime.

Under current law, bodycam footage is off limits until someone petitions the court and a judge decides to release it, a process that would stay in place for the media and general public. Lawmakers considered earlier this year flipping that, making video a public record unless law enforcement files in court, but that proposal was discarded.

This is just one section of a much wider package of policing reforms.

Lawmakers have removed a section from the bill that would have dealt with rioting by clarifying existing law and tweaking the punishments, a response to protests last summer that turned violent. That language has been dropped in favor of separate legislation, House Bill 805, sponsored by House Speaker Tim Moore.

The now-discarded riot language in Senate Bill 300 was once praised as consensus legislation, but Moore's version drew protestors to the State Capitol on Wednesday.

Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, lead sponsor of Senate Bill 300, said the General Assembly will press forward with Moore's bill, which was amended to include some, but not all, the language from Senate Bill 300.

"We made certain changes to his that allowed us to be able to support it," Britt said.

As for the broader reform bill, it makes dozens of changes, which are broken down in the latest bill summary:
  • It creates a new duty to intervene, requiring law enforcement officers to intervene if they see another officer using excessive force.
  • It creates a public database of law enforcement officer certification suspensions and revocations.
  • It creates a new state-level database of any use of force resulting in death or serious injury and require police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state to supply information on these “critical incidents” to the state Department of Justice
  • It requires law enforcement agencies to create an “early warning” system within their agency to monitor complaints against officers as well as firearm discharges and use of force.
  • It lays out a process to have all law enforcement officer fingerprints entered in state and federal databases.
  • It requires that material that calls an officer’s credibility into such question that a prosecutor isn’t comfortable putting them on the stand be reported to a law enforcement standards commission and require that commission to notify other agencies and district attorneys if the officer transfers to another agency. This material is called Giglio material, named after a court precedent.
  • It requires psychological screening when officers are certified and new training on mental health.
  • It requires the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate deaths at the hands of law enforcement as well as deaths in prisons or jails, when the governor, a law enforcement agency head, a district attorney or the commissioner of prisoners requests it.
  • It expands mandatory training to include mental health, community policing, minority sensitivity and the new duty to intervene.
  • It reduces the time allowed before a first appearance in front of a judge from 96 to 72 hours and require first appearances in misdemeanor cases.
  • It increases penalties for resisting an officer if the resistance causes an officer to be injured.
  • It implements a public awareness campaign on how to “interact lawfully with law enforcement.”

This bill cleared the House Wednesday 100-2, with Reps. James Roberson, D-Wake, and Raymond Smith, D-Wayne, voting against it. It heads back to the Senate, which can either accept the House's changes or continue negotiations to produce a final bill to send to the governor.


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