Police

North Carolina Exempts Police Body Cam Footage From Public Records Requirements

Anti-transparency measure undermines the purpose of cop cameras, according to advocates.

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||| Elizabeth Flores/ZUMA Press/Newscom
Elizabeth Flores/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Police body camera videos and dash cam recordings in North Carolina are now exempt from state public records laws under a bill signed into law Monday.

North Carolina joins five other states—Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, and South Carolina—that exempt police body cam videos under freedom of information laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Under the new law, people who appear in police body cam and dash cam videos can request the footage from police departments. If denied, they must ask permission from judge, who must find a "compelling public interest" in releasing the footage. Prosecutors would still have access to the footage.

Transparency advocates and press organizations said the new law will make holding the police accountable in the state harder and runs contrary to the purpose of police body cams in the first place.

"The whole reason we have these body cam programs is because there was a lack of reliable information about what happens between law enforcement and the public," Adam Marshall, an attorney at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press who tracks body cam policies across the country, said today in an interview. "If you cut off access to the public, you're undercutting the entire rationale for this new technology. If there's no public access to these videos, they just become another surveillance and investigative tool for police, instead of providing the oversight everyone believed they were being instituted to provide."

Currently, 29 states have explicit policies addressing police body cam footage and public records. For example, body cam footage by the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. is released under public records requests, and the police department has proactively released footage of some police shootings.

However, as I wrote last year, the rapid rollout of body cam pilot programs—spurred by public outcry following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police—has outpaced the development of standard policies and best practices, and states have struggled to balance transparency with privacy rights. Some states exempt footage in a location where the person being filmed would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says the new North Carolina law is an attempt at striking that balance between transparency and prudence. "The legislation allows people to see it, but in a reasonable amount of time," McCrory told WFMY News on Wednesday. "So, the public sees the whole story. And, some of the media might be disappointed that they can't show it on the 11:00 news the day it happens, but I've got to have respect for our police officers. That's my number one concern."

But Marshall said North Carolina's law falls on the more restrictive end of the patchwork of body cam laws that have proliferated since the technology became widespread, and that it will overburden the already clogged court system with requests.

Local activists also said the law will leave too much discretion in the hands of police departments.

"It comes down to a personal or moral level of whoever the police chief is," Wanda Hunter of the Raleigh Police Accountability Community Task Force, told the AP. "If it's someone you constantly come head to head with, you can just hang it up there."

The ACLU of North Carolina called the law "shameful" and said it would make efforts to increase police accountability "nearly impossible."

"People who are filmed by police body cameras should not have to spend time and money to go to court in order to see that footage," Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, 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."

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  1. Alright assholes, remember the rules.

    If you bash the republicans who got this passed, make sure you mention how really though, the democrats are worse. A post which lacks this addendum will be counted as an explicit endorsement of democrats both in specific races, and their policies in general.

    1. AND WHY IS THERE NO WHITE HISTORY MONTH, GOJIRA?!?!?

    2. They were clearly Democrats in Republican livery. A cheap Harkonnen trick.

      1. That is a picture of a heart plug!

        1. Everyone gets one here, Thufir.

    3. Won’t defend anyone associated with this travesty…. there are, however many D’s in the NCLEG who voted for it along with the R majority.

      We’ll give you your bipartisanship good and hard!

  2. A few days before Phil Castile’s shooting, the Minneapolis PD lost a ruling where they wanted editing powers over soon-to-come body cams!

    Note: The St Anthony police – the shooters – is an inner suburb of Mpls-St Paul separate from the MPD.

  3. And, some of the media might be disappointed that they can’t show it on the 11:00 news the day it happens, but I’ve got to have respect for our police officers. That’s my number one concern.

    I thought it was out of respect for the privacy of people on the video other than the officers. I assume they’ll be releasing lickety-split any video that paints the arrested in a bad light.

    1. Google Translate: The FOP donated a shit ton of money to my re-election campaign.

      No, fuck you asshole your number one concern should be to the constituents that pay both yours and the police officers salaries.

    2. The law specifically applies to releasing the video to the people on the video. So its definitely not their privacy we are worried about.

  4. Where’s my shocked face? Oh, here it is.

  5. I see the released the bodycam of the Dylan Noble shooting – since it pretty clearly shows a guy doing suicide by cop.

    http://www.fresnobee.com/news/…..31417.html

    1. Not going to watch it. Didn’t they plug the guy after he’d been on the ground for a while though?

      1. Killers make for shitty mental health professionals.

      2. 14 seconds after the previous shot with a shotgun

        1. Hey, he could have had an explosive belt under his t-shirt. Don’t you know “Allahu akbar” is Arabic for “I hate my life”?

          1. I thought it was “Prepare for a rigorous philosophical debate!”

      3. I’m not sitting through 5 minutes of ads to watch it again and time it. He walked at the cops with a hand behind his back like he was pulling a gun saying “my life sucks”. After he was shot once, he rolled on the ground, lifted his search and pretended to reach for a gun again – obviously trying to get them to finish him off.

        Maybe the cops should have realized he was faking but whatever – I have little sympathy for suicides who fuck up other people on the way out.

        1. shirt not search

    2. Its weird that the cops think this makes them look good.

  6. Call me crazy but I have a vague suspicion that there might just be lawsuits over this.

  7. So, the public pays for every single part of this process, but it’s not public property.

    Right.

    1. Like your tax return.

  8. Gov. Pat McCrory, your goddamn priorities are out of whack which is far from surprising given the insidiously autocratic state of the cankered suited creatures who govern in modern America.

    Governor McIdjit, your number ONE concern is to FUCKING serve the citizens in your goddamn state- NOT respect motherfucking police who form one of the most powerful international guilds on earth and as such MUST be contained within strict and distinct parameters or else liberty becomes a goddamn backwash.

    You have become a breathless illustration of the searing disconnect between the public and those who professionally oppress others through the governing arts.

    1. McCrory’s number one concern was getting the POA endorsement for the upcoming election.

  9. First the dismissal of any Clinton wrongdoing, and now this. Why not just cut through all the B.S. and put things in plain language: if you are part of the government, you are exempt from any rules, laws, or oversight. PERIOD. End of argument.

    The implied message is plain. “We are your superiors. You answer to us — we do not answer to you. Resistance if futile.”

    1. Government Lives Matter.

    2. GOVERNMENT, n. A modern Chronos who devours his own children. The priesthood are charged with the duty of preparing them for his tooth.

      -Bierce

  10. And, they wonder why the public doesn’t trust them. Government lives matter.

  11. Are we sure that’s not a picture of a heart plug?

  12. Come on, people. We can’t have things like facts distracting us from a coordinated “he was in fear of his life” narrative.

    1. Facts? As any cop will tell you, “The video doesn’t tell the whole story” Are you going to believe your own lying eyes over the heroes in blue?

      1. As any cop will tell you, “The video doesn’t tell the whole story”

        Indeed not. But it will reveal blatant lies.

        Remember that case where the cop shot the guy running away, and then walked over and dropped his taser by the body? Which we only know about because of someone’s cellphone vid?

        Whatever happened with that one?

        1. I agree with you. I was trying to be sarcastic. That case is still going through the courts. They have to give it some time to cool down so they can sweep it under the rug when everyone has forgotten about it.

    2. “Hey, every cop needs to go home to his FAMILY, his CHILDREN, each night”

      Those who never get to go home to their families because a pig murdered them? Fuck em. And make them pay for it too.

  13. Local activists also said the law will leave too much discretion in the hands of police departments.

    Perhaps so, but it’s also true that before the law all discretion was in the hands of local police departments. The footage wasn’t covered explicitly in the FOIL, so it was left up to individual police departments to classify them, and some departments classified the footage as “personnel records,” inherently exempt from FOIL. This law does not do that, and in fact does ensure that judges will be able to overrule police departments.

    I do believe that it is goes too far in making it difficult to get footage released during ongoing investigations, but I think that the coverage has been a bit odd considering that it’s an improvement on the prior situation (and there are reasonable privacy concerns for non cops on footage, to be sure.) But perhaps I just trust my fellow North Carolinian and attorney Patrick at PopeHat too much.

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