by Ashleigh N. Dye
In August 2021, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed three criminal justice bills into law. The goals of the new laws are to give law enforcement the mental health tools they need, ensure police are responsible for their actions, and log the trouble officers get into. Governor Cooper created a task force to examine racial equality in criminal justice and police accountability.
Attorney General Josh Stein, co-chair of the task force said “For law enforcement to succeed there must be trust between the police and the communities they serve and protect. That is why it is absolutely necessary to get policing right.”
That is what these bills aim to do. Senate Bill 300 creates a database to track if an officer’s certification is revoked or suspended. The transparency that this bill hopes to foster is what many believe is needed to improve or forge community-police relationships. “Being a law enforcement professional demands that we continue to look for ways to become more transparent and accountable,” said Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins.
Senate Bill 300 will enter an officer’s fingerprints into a database for federal and state use. It also will utilize a program that will alert the officer’s department if they get arrested.
Agencies are also required to track use-of-force, complaints, use of a firearm, and vehicular accidents. The only aspect of these databases that will be public is the status of an officer’s certification. Other sections or databases will be available only to law enforcement.
This bill also creates a minimum standard for the training of officers. Use of force, duty to intervene, mental health, ethics, and more are now required training for law enforcement.
Investigative aspects of this law also include a requirement for use of force deaths or a prisoner’s death to be investigated if the governor, law enforcement official, or other specified official requests an investigation to be done.
The new law also addresses the release of body-camera footage. There is now a time limit on when an officer’s body-camera footage needs to be released after a request is made. In addition to the releasing of the videos, anyone who illegally distributes or copies the footage faces possible misdemeanor and felony charges.
Another one of the bills that Governor Cooper signed into law is House Bill 536. It holds police accountable by requiring them to not only report excessive use of force incidents but also states they have a duty to intervene.
A person applying for a law enforcement job will have their name sent through the National Decertification Index to check on their national certification status.
A Giglio letter is given by the courts to an officer whose credibility cannot be trusted in testifying. House Bill 536 requires those letters to be sent to law enforcement officials as means of notification.
House Bill 436 requires a law enforcement applicant to have a psychological evaluation. After being hired, employees will learn about mental health practices and the materials available to them.
While many believe there needs to be more done, all seem to agree that these laws are leading North Carolina in the right direction.
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