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Winston-Salem asking for police bodycam law change
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Winston-Salem asking for police bodycam law change


The city manager, council and members of the Citizen Police Review Board would get the right to view police body camera footage, under one of the legislative proposals the Winston-Salem City Council wants the N.C. General Assembly to enact.

On Monday, the council passed wish lists of legislation at both the state and federal levels that the city would like to see passed.

Under current North Carolina law, police bodycam footage can be released only on the order of a court.

The legislation the city wants passed is similar to a bill filed in 2019 by Forsyth County's two senators in the N.C. General Assembly, Joyce Krawiec and Paul Lowe. That bill never made it out of committee.

Last summer, a court found compelling public interest as grounds for the release of Forsyth County Sheriff's Office video footage shot during the confinement of John Neville in the county jail.

Neville, who died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center on Dec. 4, 2019, had been put in a prone restraint at the jail, and the video showed him repeatedly telling detention officers that he was having trouble breathing.

Another prominent case of contested body-cam footage came in the officer-involved fatal shooting of Edward Van McCrae on March 30, 2018. In that case, the police themselves eventually called for the public release of the body-cam video.

The difference between what happened in those cases, though, and what is proposed in the new body-cam legislation, is that the city viewing of body-cam footage wouldn't be a public release.

Although city officials and the police review panel would get the right to review police bodycam videos, a court order would still be required to release the videos to the public. 

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Mayor Allen Joines said before Tuesday's council meeting that being able to view police bodycam footage would help city council members defuse public anxieties in situations where an officer uses force.

"A lot of times, situations arise that really incite a lot of concern," Joines said. "Our hands are tied being able to really tell the whole story of what happened because we can't even let the council see the bodycam video. It will help us tell the story and let people know what happened quicker."

The other state legislation that the city wants lawmakers to pass would improve the city's ability to provide affordable housing, including the waiving of development fees to encourage such housing.

One bill would give the city the ability to sell or even give away city-owned land for the express purpose of allowing the development of affordable housing.

The list of federal legislation backed by the city is long, and includes asking for coronavirus relief funds, federal assistance for providing affordable housing, and increased investment in job creation and education.

Federal transportation goals backed by the city include getting money for urban circulators in an effort to "bring passenger rail back to the city."

Leslie Mozingo, the city's federal lobbyist, told the members of the city council on Monday that it is important for residents to realize the amount of money federal lobbying can bring back to the city.

"We have gotten tens of millions of dollars over the course of this advocacy program," Mozingo said.

Meanwhile, advocates of less police spending said Monday they plan to keep on asking city officials to reallocate money from the police department to programs meant to reduce root causes of crime.

Several speakers said the city should reallocate 10% of the city's $78 million police budget for other programs they say would better reduce crime. The group advocates more mental health services, including having mental health professionals accompany police on calls. 

Organizations in the effort include Hate Out of Winston, Triad Abolition Project and Winston-Salem Democratic Socialists of America and others. The groups together call themselves the Forsyth County Police Accountability & Reallocation Coalition.



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