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North Carolina criminal justice reform package approved by Senate committee

By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

A criminal justice reform package focused on targeting insubordinate and overly aggressive officers while giving more mental health assistance to police and deputies was approved Tuesday by a Senate committee.

The measure, based partly on recommendations by legislators and state law enforcement groups, attempts to pinpoint misbehaving officers and prevent misconduct from others that could result in injury or death. An updated bill was unveiled last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee by its Republican authors.

The bill, which now heads to another Senate committee, includes some proposals from a task force created by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to address racial inequities in the state’s justice system. Those efforts surfaced following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd and the subsequent widespread demonstrations against racial injustice.

But most of the dramatic changes proposed by Cooper’s task force were left out and aren’t likely to be contained in the Senate measure should it pass the chamber, according to GOP Sen. Danny Britt of Robeson County, the bill’s chief sponsor.

Absent are task force recommendations restricting the use of cash bonds for some criminal suspects, tightening no-knock warrants and allowing prosecutors discretion in transferring the cases of youths under age 18 accused of high-level felonies from adult to juvenile court.

House and Senate Democrats held a news conference earlier Tuesday to promote an array of criminal justice reform measures, many of which go well beyond the Senate GOP bill.

Democratic Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed of Mecklenburg County praised Britt and other Republicans for working with him on improving the Republican measure. But “we can and must go further in a bipartisan fashion to address the disparate racial outcomes at every stage of our justice system,” Mohammed said. “This is our opportunity to come together on justice reforms.”

Britt’s measure does contain largely bipartisan provisions that create publicly accessible databases by police and sheriffs’ standards commissions so people can 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 that results in a death or serious injury. The bill requires police trainees or new hires to receive a psychological screening and for officers to receive training on mental health and wellness strategies. There would also be new and increased penalties against rioters who cause physical injury or significant property damage.

A House judiciary committee on Tuesday advanced a handful of criminal justice reform measures, some of which already are incorporated in Britt’s measure.

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