Lawmakers warn of fight over city’s body cam bill

N.C. Rep. Ed Hanes and City Council Member Denise “D.D.” Adams talk after a meeting at City Hall last week.

Lawmakers warn of fight over city’s body cam bill
January 26
08:00 2017

Photo by Todd Luck



The Winston-Salem City Council has asked local lawmakers to give authority back to the city to release police body camera footage.

The City Council annually meets with its local legislative delegation to discuss legislation it would like to see in the General Assembly. Due to a meeting and personal conflicts, Republican lawmakers didn’t attend the meeting at City Hall on Jan. 20. Democratic state lawmakers Sen. Paul Lowe, Rep. Ed Hanes and Rep. Evelyn Terry did make it.

Last year, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed a law, now in effect, that prohibits the release of police body and dash cam footage without a court order. The city requested legislation that would allow for a local officer’s footage to be released or reviewed with an opportunity for the district attorney’s office and the officer to put a hold on it, if needed.

The state’s body camera policy currently puts obstacles in the way of the city releasing footage to ease public tensions, like it did last year after 31-year-old Travis Page died in police custody. But it also prevents what were previously common practices, like letting the police citizens review board see cam footage or letting a parent see footage of an incident involving their child.

All the legislators agreed with the sentiments but said such legislation, even if it just applied to Winston-Salem, would be difficult to get through the General Assembly. Hanes was concerned that it would jeopardize the ability to get state funds for police body cameras.

“It’s going to make it very difficult to deal with those folks on those issues,” said Hanes.

Hanes at first said simply ignoring the state law would have fewer consequences than trying to pass a new law on the subject. He said there’s no enforcement clause in the body cam law because debate on the bill was stopped before it could be included.

City staff said they would be hesitant to violate even an unenforceable state law. City Council Member Dan Besse said that if the city did violate the law, he expected that the General Assembly would react with an emergency session.

Lowe said lawmakers from rural counties, which make up most of the N.C. Senate, would oppose it. They want to leave body cam issues to the courts.

“We’re up against a wall here,” said Lowe.

But despite the challenges, all three lawmakers did say they were willing to propose the bill. They’ll be working with the city’s lobbyists to figure out the best way to propose it.

The other proposals from City Council are likely to be less controversial in Raleigh. Terry said that there’s actually bi-partisan support for the city’s proposal on raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in North Carolina to 18 years-old.

“There is momentum for this,” she said.

The rest of the proposed legislation included allowing the city to recoup advertising costs on housing codes complaint ads by adding it to the lien on the property, a resolution to eliminate a provision in the city charter on the signature requirement for unaffiliated candidates that conflicted with state law and ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees equal rights for women

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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