RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)- North Carolina’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice heard from Triangle leaders on Friday.
After public calls for police reform, the task force is addressing racial equity in the criminal justice system. More than 20 appointed members will work to develop concrete solutions. Governor Roy Cooper put the task force together after protests following the death of George Floyd.
“George Floyd is not the first and he won’t be the last but we have to hold these officers accountable,” said Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead.
Birkhead said too often, law enforcement involved in wrong doing get away with their behavior. Even so, he understands making lasting change in criminal justice will all take a lot of work.
“My ultimate goal is to create a community less dependent on law enforcement and more empowered,” said Sheriff Birkhead.
The sheriff was one of several law enforcement officials speaking to the Governor’s task force via Zoom.
Emancipate NC executive director, Dawn Blagrove, said the state needs an independent body to oversee police.
“What we know for sure is they are incapable of policing themselves, they are incapable of being objective about evaluating each other’s performance,” said Blagrove.
She supported moving some police funding into social services.
Raleigh’s Police Chief however says it could hurt smaller departments who already struggle to provide supplemental training.
“When you layer on, for whatever reasons, defunding organizations, you diminish those other opportunities for training,” said Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown.
Chief Deck-Brown said police are already asked to to many hats outside their official training.
Attorney General Josh Stein agreed, saying, “We spend hundreds of hours training law enforcement to be peace officers but then we’re asking them to be mental health counselors and drug counselors and social workers.”
The task force has been focusing on all aspects of criminal justice- from the role of race in charges all the way through sentencing. That covers use of force, recruitment, and everything in between.
North Carolina Institute of Medicine reported that while Blacks/African American are imprisoned at higher rates and tend to face harsher punishment. They found while they only make up 22% of the state’s population, they made up for more then 50% of the prison population. Whites in North Carolina made up 40% of the prison population while making up 64% of the state population.
The Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice was scheduled to meet twice a month. They are expected to come up with a final report by Dec. 1, 2020.
Report on Police Reform and Racial Justice
The listening session comes on the heels of the release of the United States Conference of Mayor’s Report on Police Reform and Racial Justice. The report lists recommendations to address police reform and racial justice.
The report works off six main categories, Redefining the Role of the Police, Sanctity of Life, Equality and Due Process, Community, and Transparency and Accountability.
When it comes to the role of police, the report urges communities to reconsider when police should or should not be called to a scene. They said in some cases, someone in social services is best suited to respond to a call. They said city leaders should ask for more funding to respond to calls that require social service rather than police.
The report also asked for departments to require officers intervene in situations where they see another officer using excessive force. While there are nationwide calls for a ban on chokeholds, the report did not say they should be banned altogether. Instead is left room for departments to ban them or use them only in rare circumstances.
Much like Sheriff Birkhead said he wants to see more emphasis on, the report said departments should reflect the demographics in the community. It said police officers should be held accountable for bias and discrimination.
After weeks of protests, the report added that force should be used as a last resort and mass arrests avoided. The report emphasized the need for officers to protect and build relationships with their communities.
Calls for transparency and accountability were addressed in the report with the recommendation potential updated bargaining agreements with police unions. It called for states to require licenses for officer, revoking those for misconduct.