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Two N.C. General Assembly bills move closer to criminal justice reform


Chapel Hill Police vehicles standby at the Chapel Hill Police Department on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. 

Two bills addressing criminal justice reform are sitting in a North Carolina Senate committee after being unanimously passed by the N.C. House in early May. 

House Bill 436, entitled "Support Law Enforcement Mental Health," would require potential law enforcement officers to undergo psychological screenings prior to certification or employment. 

The bill would also require officers to participate in two-hour trainings on effective mental health and wellness strategies every three years.

Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) co-sponsored House Bill 436 and said the bill would provide officers with additional training on mitigation techniques and discern their mental fitness.

“They need to be able to evaluate a situation and have training on how to de-escalate and how to play social worker," Insko said. 

Insko said she believes the training is especially important when officers are called to deal with mentally unstable individuals because she is continuing to see poor-decision making based on these situations.

The second criminal justice reform bill, House Bill 536, would obligate law enforcement officers to intervene in and report situations of excessive force within three days. 

Rep. Ricky Hurtado, (D-Alamance) co-sponsored both bills and said House Bill 536 would provide officers with a lawful duty to interfere in instances of extreme force. 

He said this bill would prevent situations like the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police last May from ever being possible. 

“You can tell from the situation over a year ago, officers knew there was an excessive use of force being used,” Hurtado said. “This law would make it mandatory for them to intervene.”

Daniel Bowes, director of policy and advocacy at the ACLU of North Carolina, said though both bills are a step in the right direction, he believes legislators could do more.

“I think they could go further in terms of acknowledging that it’s not always individual police officers who are the problem,” Bowes said. “But the institution itself.” 

Hurtado said he believes both bills are important measures for holding law enforcement accountable and eliminating biases within the criminal justice system. 

“When we think about the health and wellbeing of our police officers, that directly translates to their effectiveness in the field,” he said. “I think that also reduces risk factors, such as how implicit bias may impact your reactions in risky situations.”

Both House Bills 436 and 536 received bipartisan support as both parties would like to see all law enforcement officers resolve situations absent of excessive force, Insko said.

She said she believes these additional measures will also help eliminate unfit individuals. 

“I think both Democrats and Republicans believe most of our law enforcement officers are following the law,” she said. “But we have so many. So, there are going to be people who really should never have been in the business in the first place.”

Hurtado said he believes bipartisan agreement concerning criminal justice legislation will continue. 

Alicia Stemper, director of public information and special services for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, said in an email that these measures were already a standard for their officers. 

Stemper said a duty to intervene has always been included within their policy manual, and all potential hires must pass a multi-stage screening process, including a psychological evaluation and polygraph examination. 


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