McCrory Signs Law Restricting Access to Police Body Camera Footage
Governor McCrory and politicians in Raleigh have once again taken us in the wrong direction, this time with a new law that restricts public access to police body camera footage. Particularly in the light of recent shootings, we need to create more accountability and transparency for law enforcement.
Legislation that cleared the General Assembly last week would shroud police body camera recordings in a cloak of secrecy. Gov. Pat McCrory should veto it.
It has been debatable whether the videos are public records. House Bill 972 ends the debate by declaring they are not. There are two mechanisms for release of the videos, neither of which is very workable.
First, a person whose photo or voice is recorded can ask to see the video, but not to copy or disclose it. The police do not have to grant the request. If they refuse, the person can go to court.
Second, anyone can ask the court to release video. But the judge can release only those portions of the video that are “relevant to the person’s request.”
“It makes it extremely unlikely that the public will see body-worn camera footage and dash camera footage of questionable or controversial police activities,” said Mike Rich, associate professor of law at the Elon University School of Law.
The law does make uniform the policies statewide. Unfortunately, it makes them uniformly bad.
Police videos can be an excellent tool for building trust between law enforcement and the public. They can protect people from undue police actions and protect police officers from unwarranted accusations. But that is true only if the videos are public unless there is a good reason to keep them secret.