A New Bill Would Allow the City Council to See Police Body-Camera Recordings—But Only in Asheville | News

A New Bill Would Allow the City Council to See Police Body-Camera Recordings—But Only in Asheville

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A local bill filed in the state House of Representatives yesterday would allow the Asheville City Council to review police body-camera recordings—a right that would not be extended to other city councils or citizens throughout the state.

House Bill 1087, sponsored by three Buncombe County Democrats, changes the state’s controversial law governing the release of body-camera footage to allow (though not require) law-enforcement officials to share the footage with city council members in Asheville in a closed session, meaning the public will not be allowed to review the footage and the council members will be required to sign nondisclosure agreements promising not to discuss what they’ve seen.

Enacted in 2016, North Carolina’s body-cam law essentially defeats the entire purpose of having body cameras, which is to hold police accountable for their actions and to ensure that those who may be victims of excessive force have an opportunity to seek justice. The law gave nearly complete control of the footage’s release to police departments themselves. People who are seen or heard on the footage are allowed to review it, but they cannot make copies or show it to anyone. And a judge is allowed to release footage, but only after it’s been discussed in court—and only after giving the officer involved a chance to testify. (That same right is not extended to alleged victims of police brutality.)

The law’s shortcomings became obvious earlier this year when someone leaked body-cam footage to the Asheville Citizen-Times showing some white cops beating and kicking a black jaywalker. To its credit, the Asheville Police Department had opened an investigation before the video went public, but no one had informed the city council; afterward, the mayor and council members demanded reforms. A judge later made all of the body-cam footage from this incident public.

HB 1087 is an apparent response to that situation—though it’s unclear why it was filed as a local bill. As a local bill, it wouldn’t require the governor’s signature to pass. It has not yet been assigned a committee, but to have any chance of succeeding, it will need to pick up Republican support. 

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