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Durham Approves $1.4M Police Body Cam Plan, Despite Restricted Access To Footage

a sample police body cam
Utility, Inc.
Flickr, Creative Commons
A file photo of one type of police body camera. Durham will follow the lead of police departments across the country and outfit officers with body cameras.

In an effort to increase police accountability, the Durham City Council has approved a plan to spend $1.4 million dollars to outfit police officers with body cameras for the next five years.

The council voted 5-2 to approve the measure, with Councilwoman Jillian Johnson casting one of two dissenting votes. She cited HB-972, a new North Carolina state law that prevents public access to body-cam footage without a court order.

"I believe with passage of HB-972 that these cameras would actually primarily be used as a tool for additional surveillance of the community rather than a tool of transparency and accountability for police," said Johnson.

"I absolutely do think there should be accountability. I don't think that body cameras under this current law are likely to achieve that goal," added Johnson. "So I believe that the money that we would spend on body cameras would be much better placed into other initiatives that improve police accountability, reduce police violence and also improve quality of life of folks in the community."

Johnson she said she thinks the $1.4 million would be better spent investing in police officer education and training initiatives, or on job, pre-school and affordable housing efforts in the community.

Johnson said she would support a body cam initiative if the state law were changed, as did Councilman Charlie Reece, who also voted against the measure.

"If we're going to implement these body cameras, we need really strong policies that allow residents and the City of Durham to have access to this footage, especially where it involves use of force by a Durham Police officer," said Reece.

He said he supports an amendment to HB-972 that would allow local governments more control over video footage.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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