North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill into law on Sept. 2 that was drafted to add transparency to the criminal justice system and improve relations between the police and public. Senate Bill 300 went into effect as soon as it was signed. The bill attracted bipartisan support and is backed by both law enforcement officials and groups advocating for criminal justice reform. A few organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have criticized the bill for not going far enough.
Many of SB 300’s provisions are based on recommendations made by the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, which was formed by the governor in 2020 after police misconduct became a hot-button issue. These provisions include a requirement for law enforcement agencies to screen potential officers for mental health issues and conduct more comprehensive background checks. The bill also makes reporting incidents of excessive force a duty for serving police officers.
In addition to implementing measures designed to identify problem police officers and applicants, SB 300 makes some important changes to the criminal laws in North Carolina. Ordinance violations like public urination or riding a bus without paying the fare will no longer be treated as criminal offenses, and the length of time that suspects can be held in custody before appearing in court has been reduced from 96 to 72 hours.
Lawmakers should be congratulated for putting partisan concerns aside and drafting a bill that groups on both sides of the criminal justice reform debate can get behind, but they should not rest on their laurels. Much work still needs to be done to improve policing in North Carolina and reassure the public, and this bill should be seen as a positive first step on a long and difficult road.