Over the last few years, more and more police departments across the country have been outfitting their officers with body cameras in order to record their interactions with the public. Regardless of whether this policy was instituted voluntarily or by government mandate, it’s generally believed that these cameras achieve a variety of laudable objectives from providing exculpatory evidence to deterring police misconduct.
Interestingly enough, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a measure just yesterday establishing a structure through which people can access footage recoded by either police dashboard cameras or body cameras, neither of which are currently required by law.
What does this new law do exactly?
House Bill 972, which passed the House by a 89-19 vote and the Senate by a 48-2 vote, establishes that footage recorded by either police dashboard cameras or body cameras is neither public record nor personnel record, but rather occupies a sort of protected middle ground in terms of availability to the public.
Under what circumstances is this footage available to the public then?
HB 972 dictates that while those people seen or heard in captured footage or their personal representative may be granted access to see and/or hear the recordings at a time and place chosen by law enforcement officials, no copies can be made absent a court order.
Furthermore, the law enforcement agency in question has the authority to deny a request to see and/or hear the footage for either safety or privacy reasons, or if doing so would compromise an active investigation. Those denied access would then have the option of appealing to the Superior Court.
Are most parties accepting of the legislation as written?
Several state lawmakers — as well as legal advocacy groups like the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — have come out against HB 972, urging Governor Pat McCrory to veto it.
Here, the primary complaint is that the bill falls well short of promoting transparency, making it much too easy for law enforcement to deny access and otherwise forcing interested parties to spend unnecessary time and money in court.
Will Governor Pat McCrory sign the bill?
It remains unclear whether Gov. McCrory will sign HB 972 as his office has made no comment on the legislation.
Stay tuned for updates …
If you are under investigation or have been charged with any sort of felony, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can protect your rights and your future as soon as possible.