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Bill would require NC officers to wear body cameras, change policies

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- Some Guilford County lawmakers want to see all police officers wearing body cameras. Right now, only a handful of North Carolina agencies use cameras and it's their choice to wear them.

Rep. Cecil Brockman filed a similar bill two years ago that never made it out of the House. He said the relationship between the community and police is such an important issue, he felt it was necessary to try again.

This time, he thinks the bill has more legs and will move forward, but Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes says he's not so sure.

Every Guilford County sheriff's deputy wears a body camera.

"You don't have to have body cams. We do, because I think it protects not only my officers, but it protects the citizens as well," Barnes said.

Guilford County Democratic Representatives Brockman and Amos Quick don't want agencies to have to make that choice.

"This bill is all about transparency with law enforcement," Brockman said.

A bill they introduced Wednesday would require officers in all law enforcement agencies to wear a body camera.

"There unfortunately has been an amount of distrust between law enforcement and the community and this bill tries to bridge that gap," Brockman said.

Brockman said the bill aims to hold both citizens and police accountable. He said complaint levels against police tend to drop when agencies use body cameras.

Barnes agrees that relationship needs improvement, but the two don't see eye to eye on how to make that happen.

"People are naturally suspicious when they see officers there," Barnes said. "You get around that by being more open and transparent with what you're doing inside your own organization."

The bill would also make police recordings public record.

"The public will be able to judge for themselves whether or not they believe that the law enforcement officer was right with their actions," Brockman said.

Under a law passed last year, you need a court order to see police video.

"It's a short time from us giving it to everyone who requests it to it ending up on social media, and then once it gets on social media, where are you going to find a jury?" Barnes said.

But Brockman says he thinks there's a way around it.

"I think as long as we can make sure that the juries will not be compromised with requesting this footage, I think we have a great reason to move forward," he said.

Barnes argues, it's a slippery slope.

"It's going to be tough for anybody to get justice, not only the victims but the suspects as well," he said.

The bill also includes a $10 million grant to help agencies pay to buy the cameras and to store that video. The bill would apply to jurisdictions with greater than 200,000 people.