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Charlotte Area

Council Talks Civil Liberties, Body Cameras

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department

Preventing police misconduct, protecting the rights of citizens, and body cameras were a major focus of the Charlotte City Council last night. The body is trying to work its way through a proposal to better enshrine civil liberties. WFAE’s Tom Bullock reports.

There were no handouts to give details on the city’s civil liberties proposal. No slide to project behind the council members as they considered the plan. So Mayor Dan Clodfelter read it aloud to the sparse crowd:

“Number one, arbitrary profiling by law enforcement based on race, religion, color, sex, national origin, sexual orientation disability or political affiliation is unacceptable.”

And, regarding the First Amendment, Clodfelter read that “rights to engage in political activity and to peaceably assemble and to protest and engage in peaceful demonstrations should be fully respected.”

The civil liberties proposal would also bar the infiltration and monitoring of a group for political purposes – and stresses the need for transparency by the police.

Council voted unanimously for CMPD and city staff to conduct a comprehensive review of the proposal.

All this may seem like a theoretical exercise. But there are practical applications for this proposal now.

CMPD wants $7 million to purchase enough body cameras for every officer.

Major Stephen Willis told Council the cameras would be turned on during “traffic stops, stop and frisks, arrest situations, uses of force” and when a citizen requests the camera to be turned on.

That prompted a question to from Councilman Al Austin.

“So if a citizen requested the camera turned on, can the officer refuse? He could not refuse?" Austin asked.

“He should not refuse by policy but that certainly could occur,” Willis responded.

Later this year the cameras will have the ability to turn on automatically, such as when police sirens are flashing.  But at first it would be up to the officer to start, or stop recording. The videos would not be public record. After the meeting, Chief Rodney Monroe told reporters it’s to protect citizens and officers alike.

“Not every citizen would want these videos made public. And for the protection of the officer, they have that same right,” Monroe says.

The council will vote on the body cameras on January 26th. A number of council members said both measures are aimed at building public trust in Charlotte’s police force.