Editorials From Across the State Condemn New Body Camera Law
The killing of Keith Lamont Scott by police in Charlotte has drawn a considerable amount of attention to the pitfalls of the new body camera law that took effect on October 1st. The law, which restricts police body camera footage being released to the public, has the potential to further damage the relationship between the police and the public.
Like too many of the laws recently passed by the General Assembly, the legislation restricting disclosure of video and audio recordings from police body-worn and dashboard-mounted cameras was done in haste. In just two days, amid the confusion and mayhem of the session’s end, the Senate got the bill from the House, passed it and it moved on to Gov. Pat McCrory.
We know first-hand, particularly following the turmoil that’s engulfed Charlotte, the importance timely release of these videos can have in providing information to the public. Even when not conclusive, being open and sharing information people can see can help assure citizens authorities are acting in the public interest.
Videos collected via body cams and dashboard cams can be critical law enforcement tools, helping solve crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice. They can help reinforce critical evidence. Further, they can show police acted properly so those who are guilty don’t avoid conviction on technicalities.
But now, days before House Bill 972, “Law Enforcement Recordings/No Public Record” becomes effective, significant weaknesses and concerns are all too obvious in this bill passed in a rush.
First, and foremost, the new law says the police videos are NOT public records. Unlike nearly all other information collected by government officials at taxpayer expense that is considered a public record, these recordings are not. So, instead of government officials having to prove why the information should NOT be available, it is taxpayers who must prove, in court, the public has a right to the video.