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NC criminal justice reform bill gets unanimous OK in Senate

May 12, 2021 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina state senators voted unanimously on Wednesday for a broad criminal justice measure that attempts to weed out misbehaving officers, provide mental health aid to law enforcement and help families view police body camera footage quickly.

The measure was largely written by Republicans but reflected input from Democrats and an array of outside groups and law enforcement lobbying groups after a year of national focus on racial inequity and police shootings of Black residents. The bill now goes to the House, where legislators have approved their own police reforms, some of which also are contained in the omnibus Senate measure.

The Senate bill creates publicly accessible portals to find out whether an officer’s certification has been suspended or revoked. The commissions also would create a database accessible 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 would have a duty to report a colleague’s excessive force to superiors, and trainees or new hires would receive psychological screenings if the bill became law.

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In response to last month’s shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr. by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies, senators amended the measure this week to alter the state’s 2016 police bodycam law as it relates to family members who wish to view the video. The bill tells a law enforcement agency it must let the family or a victim view the unredacted recordings within five business days. The agency still could ask a judge to let it edit or withhold footage. Brown’s family was shown about 18 minutes of bodycam videos on Tuesday under a judge’s order.

The bill was amended Wednesday to scale back the situations in which a suspect could be convicted of a felony for resisting an otherwise lawful arrest and an officer is injured. Provisions still raise penalties for rioting when significant monetary damage or bodily injury occurs.

The measure contains some recommendations from a task force commissioned last year by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on racial equity and criminal justice. But many panel proposals, like those reforming bail and the death penalty and decriminalizing marijuana, were left out.