New North Carolina law makes obtaining police footage a bureaucratic task

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed legislation on Monday, July 11, that effectively bars all police video and audio recordings from being released to the public unless a state Superior Count judge issues an order to that effect.

Prior to the enactment of House Bill 972, each local police department in North Carolina established its own body camera policy, while law enforcement vehicle dashboard footage was deemed by state law to be treated as personnel records — meaning it was only released publicly under certain circumstances or with the officer’s permission.

Civil libertarians and community advocates argue that the new law will lead to less police accountability in the treatment of suspects. A private individual recorded by law enforcement may only privately listen or view the recording after a written request is submitted to the agency and approved.

Democratic North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper also said he disagrees with the policy outlined in HB 972, and believes most police recordings should be a matter of public record.

“People who are filmed by police body cameras should not have to spend time and money to go to court to see that footage,” the North Carolina ACLU policy counsel said in a statement. “These barriers are significant and we expect them to drastically reduce any potential this technology had to make law enforcement more accountable to community members.”

According to state Rep. Allen McNeill (R-Asheboro), a former police officer, most local departments already had policies which treated body cams the same as dashboard video, with public release being very limited.

As for Pat McCrory, the conservative governor has been very measured in public comments about the bill, acknowledging that a balance must be struck between police accountability and protecting investigations, law enforcement agents and victims.

“We’ve learned in Chicago if you hold a piece of film for a long time you completely lose the trust of individuals,” McCrory said, referring to the police shooting case of Laquan McDonald. “We’ve learned if you immediately release a video sometimes it distorts the picture, which is extremely unfair to our law enforcement officers.”

In that vein, the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys issued a statement on July 19 endorsing HB 972.  “This legislation ensures that any suspect in a criminal investigation will have the right to a full and fair investigation without part of the evidence being released to the public before any decision is made by professionals on whether to proceed with prosecution or any other action,” the statement read, in part.

Among other provisions, the bill allows police recordings to be withheld if it “may harm the reputation . . . of a person”, or if it would disclose information of a “highly sensitive personal nature”.

 

[CNN] [The News & Observer]