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Criminal justice bill OK’d by NC House reworks body cam rule

August 18, 2021 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A wide-ranging criminal justice bill designed to push bad officers out of North Carolina law enforcement while giving others mental health assistance received overwhelming support from the House on Wednesday.

The measure also made another effort at altering the process by which the family members of someone who died or is seriously injured can view privately the police body camera footage of what happened.

Interest in adjusting the rules grew after the April shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies and attempts by his family to watch the videos.

The larger bipartisan measure, approved by a vote of 100-2, is a response to a year of national focus on racial inequity and police shootings of Black residents, including the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.

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The Senate, which approved a mostly similar measure in May, must decide whether to accept the House changes — sending it to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — or negotiate further with House leaders.

The bill would create a public database to determine whether an officer’s certification has been suspended or revoked. The state also would create a database accessible only by law enforcement that contains “critical incident information” about when an officer has been involved in a case resulting in death or serious injury.

Police officers also would have a duty to report a colleague’s excessive force to superiors, and officers would receive psychological screenings and mental health strategies.

As for the body camera footage, current law gives a law enforcement agency discretion to refuse the request of a family, which could then go to a judge to seek that decision be overturned. Critics say that places a large weight upon the relatives.

The Senate added language months ago that would have told police or a sheriff to let the family or a victim view the unredacted recordings within five business days of their request. The department could ask a judge before that happened to let it edit or withhold footage.

But criticisms surfaced, and a proposed alteration that was added last month was quickly deleted after complaints it would lead to more delays in family access.

Under new language contained in Wednesday’s bill, a law enforcement agency would have to contact a court within three business days of receiving a formal request from the family so the judge can decide how much footage, if any, could be watched.

During Wednesday’s floor debate, the chamber rejected a pair of amendments by Democratic Rep. Marcia Morey of Durham County. One would have made it easier to let a family watch the footage immediately if no one objected, while the other would have removed criminal penalties for anyone who recorded the footage or distributed it.

The House version of the bill had already removed Senate provisions that would have raised rioting penalties. It appears GOP leaders have decided to go with a standalone bill sponsored by House Speaker Tim Moore addressing that activity.