Police who use force would be tracked in a private database under NC Senate budget

·4 min read

The North Carolina Senate’s budget plan includes proposals meant to hold law enforcement accountable after misconduct and use of force.

The inclusion of those proposals comes after a public outcry last summer for more police transparency and accountability following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and after scrutiny this spring on the shooting death of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City.

Senators’ budget would create a private database to track officers involved in use-of-force incidents and fund two public databases to track discipline and decertification records.

The budget also would authorize the governor to call on the SBI to investigate use-of-force and in-custody deaths.

Law enforcement databases

The Senate budget proposal directs the NC Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission to create a database, which wouldn’t be publicly available, used to track critical incidents involving law enforcement. The budget specifies these as use-of-force incidents that result in serious injury or death. Law enforcement agencies would be able to track officers involved in these incidents using the database.

Two other databases that would be publicly available on the commission’s website would include all decertifications and suspensions of certification for law enforcement and justice officers.

All three databases would allow an officer to have a hearing about their inclusion in the database before being added.

Decertification and suspension databases already exist on the Department of Justice’s website. Sen. Danny Britt said nothing currently under law requires the DOJ to maintain these databases.

Britt said the budget proposal, if it passes, ensures that the database is maintained and there is funding available to do so.

Some of North Carolina’s leaders have been pushing for these types of databases after Floyd’s death. Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted in the 46-year-old man’s death after kneeling on his neck for around 9 minutes.

SBI investigations

North Carolina’s governor could make the decision to ask the State Bureau of Investigation to look into police officers’ use of force if the Senate budget proposal becomes law.

The proposal would give the governor the ability to call for an SBI investigation in three circumstances:

  • If a sworn law enforcement officer with arrest power fires their gun.

  • If a sworn officer with arresting power uses force resulting in death or serious injury.

  • If a person in the custody of the Department of Public Safety, a state prison, a county jail or a local confinement facility dies or suffers serious injury, regardless of the location where the incident occurs.

Current law allows either the head of the agency that used force or the family of a person who died to request the investigation.

It is typical for the heads of law enforcement agencies to call for the SBI to investigate when their officers are involved in a shooting.

Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten called for an SBI investigation on April 21, the same day Brown, 42, died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head while driving away from deputies trying to serve him with search and arrest warrants.

However, Gov. Roy Cooper urged Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble to call for a special prosecutor to review the case and Womble refused. He later said he would not press charges against the officers involved.

The SBI released a statement saying the agency would not and could not comment on Womble’s decision.

Earlier this year, Britt, a Lumberton Republican, proposed in Senate Bill 300, the Criminal Justice Reform bill, to give the governor, a sheriff, a police chief, the head of a state law enforcement agency, a district attorney or the commissioner of prisons the ability to request an SBI investigation.

The budget proposal only adds the governor to the list of people who can call on the SBI for this type of investigation.

If the budget proposal passes, Cooper would be given that authority beginning Oct. 1.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at link.chtbl.com/underthedomenc or wherever you get your podcasts.

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