Communities across North Carolina (and the entire country) have spent a great deal of time over the last year trying to iron out thoughtful policies regarding how accessible police body camera footage should be. It's tricky business
, a balancing act of transparency objectives and privacy concerns. But the entire reason these conversations are taking place is because people want more accountability from their police departments; they want evidence that what officers write in their reports lines up with what actually happened on the street. They don't want what happened with Laquan McDonald
to happen in their cities and towns.
have been working through the details of this policy, but legislation introduced during the current state legislative session threatens to essentially nullify those efforts. As the INDY
, HB 972, sponsored by John Faircloth (R-High Point) and Allen McNeill (R-Asheboro)—both of whom are retired law enforcement officers—would give police departments full discretion as to what is released to the general public. Monday night, HB 972 passed in the House.
There are worthwhile debates to be had over what body-camera footage should be available as public records requests. Ordinary citizens shouldn't be able to request video of a drunk person getting arrested for indecent exposure, for example. But HB 972 is so broad that it quite literally defeats the entire purpose of ordering body cameras in the first place. Under this bill, if a cop uses excessive force on you, the police department is free to deny your request to grant you a copy of the footage. You would then have to go to court to obtain footage of the incident (and incur all the costs associated therewith). What's more, HB 972 prevents municipalities from establishing advisory panels to determine if releasing a video is in the public interest.
“Body cameras are supposed to represent a step forward for transparency, but this bill would be a step backward by empowering police to keep video footage secret—even from individuals who are filmed,” Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, says. “At a minimum, people who are filmed by police body cameras should be able to obtain that footage. Instead, HB 972 would force people to go to court to obtain footage, a process most simply can’t afford. This bill would also deny local governments the ability to determine if footage does in fact need to be released in order to maintain public confidence, something they have the ability to do under current law.”
The bill now goes to the Senate for review.