Legislative update: House bills would require body cameras for law enforcement officers

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Two bills recently introduced in the N.C. House of Representatives would require that law enforcement officers wear body cameras to capture their interactions with the public.

House Bill 395 was introduced March 31, and House Bill 537 was introduced April 6. Both bills would require that “most” law enforcement officers wear body cameras. Officers who would be required to wear body cameras include troopers with the N.C. State Highway Patrol and state and local officers in counties with populations of 200,000 people or more.

Both bills establish $10 million in nonrecurring funds for grants for law enforcement agencies to pay for the cameras through the Governor’s Crime Commission–$5 million in the upcoming fiscal year, and another $5 million the following year. The proposed grant funds would require a local match of no more than $100,000.

Locally, efforts to outfit officers with body cameras are underway in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.

Brunswick County commissioners approved more than $50,000 for the sheriff’s office to purchase body cameras in November 2014. Emily Flax, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said 80 cameras have been purchased and are expected to arrive and be in use by the end of the month.

The sheriff’s office has updated its policies and procedures to include body cameras and deputy training is underway, she said.

Related story: Brunswick sheriff’s deputies to be outfitted with body cameras

“Every program we have put in place has been geared around transparency and rebuilding the trust and respect of the very community we work for and serve,” Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram said. “This is just another layer, in my opinion. It’s a tool. It’s not the end all be all. It will not always solve or answer every question that we have or collect every bit of footage that we need when we’re in a situation.

“But it’s certainly something that will be an added layer to help our citizens find comfort in the fact that we are doing everything we can to operate in an efficient and professional manner…anything less will not be tolerated.”

The camera system the sheriff’s office already has in place–in-car dash cameras–has exonerated officers of accusations that have been made in “99 percent of cases,” Ingram said.

In New Hanover County, commissioners approved a grant for the sheriff’s office to purchase 66 body cameras in January. Lt. Jerry Brewer, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said deputies are currently testing body cameras and he expects the sheriff’s office to order the cameras later this month.

Both bills have been referred to the House appropriations committee. If approved, the bill could take effect as early as July 1.

Caroline Curran is the managing editor of Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6336 or caroline.c@portcitydaily.com.