Police reform bill set to move, without change in body camera policy
Some 20 reforms are packed into legislation with bipartisan support at the statehouse, though Democrats want to go further.Posted — Updated
The bill doesn't change the process for releasing footage from law enforcement body-worn and dashboard cameras, though the key bill sponsor said Tuesday those conversations will continue as the bill moves forward.
State lawmakers laid this process out several years ago, requiring a judge to sign off before footage is released. Some, including Gov. Roy Cooper, have called for the process to essentially flip: Instead of the public having to go before a judge and argue for release, videos would be public within 48 hours unless law enforcement makes a good case to keep it secret.
The change has been proposed, but it's not part of legislation advancing so far in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. That includes Senate Bill 300, a package of 20-something reforms that cleared the Senate Judiciary committee Tuesday on a unanimous vote.
Britt said he plans to meet, though, with members of the Legislative Black Caucus and other Democrats and that the state's body camera law will continue to be discussed. Senate Bill 300 will likely move through the Senate next week, but Britt said it could morph before final passage in the House.
"We're willing to talk about what changes might make it better," Britt said.
Several of those House bills also moved through committee Tuesday.
Democratic lawmakers thanked Republican colleagues during Tuesday's news conference for the changes that are coming, even as they pressed for more, including a shift in body camera policy.
Among the other proposals Democrats have generally backed that aren't in the GOP bills:
- A ban on no-knock warrants
- An end to life without parole sentences for juvenile defendants
- Large-scale bail reforms
- The legalization or decriminalization of possessing small amounts of marijuana
- A new requirement to bring in a special prosecutor to review officer-involved shootings
- A ban on law enforcement chokeholds
- Changes in court fines and fees to lower the impact on poor people, including changes that would allow people who can't afford their fines to keep their driver's licenses so they can get to and from work
Britt's Senate Bill 300 would make a number of changes to the state's criminal code, and to law enforcement policies:
- A statewide duty for law enforcement to intervene, and report to superiors, any excessive use of force they witness
- Creation of a new database of law enforcement officer certifications, revocations and suspensions. Police departments and sheriff's offices would feed records into the database that other agencies would review before hiring an officer. The idea is to root out bad apples. The database would not be public.
- A new statewide database of "critical incidents" where someone dies or is seriously injured by law enforcement. The database would not be public.
- A new requirement to notify the state of Giglio or Brady letters, which are notices district attorneys send police departments when they don't believe an officer is trustworthy enough to testify in court. The letters, and the lists of them some district attorneys keep, aren't public record now and wouldn't be under the bill, but they would be cataloged at the state level.
- New required training on mental health and wellness strategies, and a required psychological screening before officers and deputies could be hired
- Creation of an "early warning" system to track accidents and critical incidents officers are involved in, as well as complaints filed against them
- Increased jurisdiction for the State Bureau of Investigation in cases where law enforcement kills or injures someone, and for all deaths in custody
- A new requirement for the courts to enroll defendants in a digital court date reminder system.
- New rules requiring first appearances for people arrested on a misdemeanor, and a reduction in the time it takes to schedule that first appearance, from 96 hours to 72 hours
Copyright 2024 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.