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N.C. Exempts Police Recordings from Public Records Laws

Way to read the room, guys.

Body cameraBruce R. Bennett/ZUMA Press/NewscomNorth Carolina has just passed, and Gov. Pat McCrory has signed, legislation that would declare that police recordings—both body camera and dash cam footage—are not public records under state law and would follow a different set of disclosure rules.

All of this is happening at a time where citizens are hungry for police actions to be more transparent and accountable to the public so that abuse can be fought against. Instead, North Carolina is using their concerns over the potential privacy over those who are being filmed to significantly curtail the ability for citizens to see what is happening in police recordings.

There's two major components to HB 972: when people may view these recordings and when the recordings may be publicly released.

For disclosures—who may watch a recording—the law requires the viewer to be a person in the recording or a representative for a person in the recording (and they cannot record or copy the video). Even then, police have wide discretion to decide how much of a recording to allow somebody to watch or to decide it contains "highly sensitive" material and reject the request. The person can then appeal to the courts, and a judge can overrule them if the judge determines the police abused their discretion.

A judge will also be the person deciding whether police footage will be publicly released. The law enforcement agencies cannot decide for themselves to release footage.  And in order to get a court order to get footage released, the requester needs to have a sense of actually what they're looking for and what time it takes place in the video footage. That is to say, you have to already know what's in the video and where in order to request having it released.

The state has been attempting to spin the law as a good thing because it also prohibits the footage from being kept confidential in a police officer's personnel file, and therefore completely hidden. But that's cold comfort when the process to gain transparency is dependent on the mercy and cooperation of the police themselves and judges.

The North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is not happy:

"Body cameras should be a tool to make law enforcement more transparent and accountable to the communities they serve, but this shameful law will make it nearly impossible to achieve those goals," said Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina. "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. 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."

There is some good news in the bill, though it's completely unrelated to police footage access. HB 972 also authorizes a needle exchange program for the state and access to naloxone kits to help counteract drug overdoses. Actually, that's really good news. A shame it's been attached to this terrible policy that helps give cover to police secrecy.

Photo Credit: Bruce R. Bennett/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • wareagle||

    I don't get this one; it seems extremely tone deaf in the face of current events.

  • Caput Lupinum||

    They were tired of South Carolina getting all the press, and thought to themselves, "What really stupid law could we pass to get people talking about us..."

  • Billy Bones||

    Do you mean in addition to HB2, the transgender bathroom law everyone is still talking about?

  • Caput Lupinum||

    They aren't very imaginative.

  • Drake||

    It's a raised middle finger to the nosy peons who want to judge the King's men.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Seems like a pretty blatant "fuck you, peasants" to me.

  • Lee Genes||

    Guess who wants the POA endorsement for the election?

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    Doesn't matter since there's nothing on the tape anyway as the bodycam "fell off" during the encounter.

  • ||

    Again, why is this new?

    We had cases of mistaken identity and people ending up dead for jaywalking well before video footage could be shot on the scene.

    Babies were flashbanged, procedures were followed, everyone went home safe.

  • Free Society||

    This and thirty other statutory exemptions and manipulations are exactly why body cameras are not a silver bullet. The only solutions worth talking about are judicial reforms are the withdrawal of qualified immunity. If cops faced the same homicide laws and standards as everyone else, I don't expect they'd be much more murdery than everyone else.

  • Free Society||

    and the withdrawal*

  • ThomasD||

    These are documents of public officials conducting public duties and should therefore be publicly available.

  • Agent Cooper||

    I sense a lawsuit in the works. At least I hope someone (ACLU?) gives it a go.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Instead, North Carolina is using their concerns over the potential privacy over those who are being filmed to significantly curtail the ability for citizens to see what is happening in police recordings.

    That's not completely without merit, but it seems that the subject of the videos should then have ultimate say in whether they can be made public, without having to go through the hoops described here.

  • Rich||

    Just superimpose a Pokemon on the subject.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Boycott North Carolina!

  • JW||

    I'm doing that right now!

  • Steve G||

    "Accountability" is literally like kryptonite to these people. They have to run to their safe space at the mere sight of the word.
    http://www.si.com/wnba/2016/07.....=si_social

  • sarcasmic||

    Ask any cop and they'll tell you that the only reason why people distrust the the police is because of these videos. It's not because of the cops beating and murdering people and otherwise abusing their power. No, it's the videos. Cops can do no wrong. So it's the fault of the videos, not the police.

  • Free Society||

    They forget why bodycams are becoming a thing in the first place.

  • SugarFree||

    So it's the fault of the videos, not the police.

    America's Benghazi.

  • Citizen X||

    That's one way to take the heat off the bathroom thing, i guess.

  • Hugh Akston||

    We can only hope that results from North Carolina's bathroom genital scanners will be treated as public records.

  • Rich||

    Like this?

  • Rich||

    OT: Possible Whistle Blower on Democratic Party Voter Fraud assassinated in Washington DC

    Police have not identified a suspect and say there is absolutely no indication that politics were involved in the killing.

    Apparently the guy was just extremely careless.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    social media is abounding with political conspiracy theories and racially charged comments about Rich's murder — even though very little is known about his killing and nothing about his killers.

    My guess: it was the Mossad.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Or maybe that Minuteman guy...

  • ||

    "They never took anything," she said of her son's mysterious murderer.

    So, amateurs. Not amateur thieves who would have taken his watch and wallet, but amateur assassins. Sorry, CJ, I think Mossad or another intelligence service would have made it look like an armed robbery.

  • Rich||

    *** adjusts tinfoil hat ***

    So, GOP false flag operation?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Tonio, that is exactly what the Mossad and other intelligence services want you to think.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    No shit, making the murder look like a robbery gone bad is Assassination 101. Assassination 201 is making the murder look like an accident. This is why we need free college for all. They can't even find an assassin who's taken Assassination 101 anymore.

  • bassjoe||

    The conspiracy theories brewing this election cycle our out of this world.

    There was no voter fraud in the Democratic primary. You just have a bunch of fucking Millennial whiners pissed off that their oh-so-hip idea to register as "independent" meant that in many states they couldn't participate in the internal processes of a private organization.

  • kbolino||

    internal processes of a private organization

    At least in my state, this "internal process" is run by the state.

  • Thymirus||

    Set your device to automatically upload footage being captured. To Hell with disclosure rules. If you're being assaulted, let the whole world see.

  • ||

    Apparently Sanders is formally endorsing Clinton as I post this...

  • Rich||

    Trump criticized the endorsement on Twitter, saying Sanders, "totally sold out to Crooked Hillary Clinton."
    "I am somewhat surprised that Bernie Sanders was not true to himself and his supporters. They are not happy that he is selling out!"

  • JW||

    He's a maverick! He's his own man! He's an outsid...

    Never mind.

  • ||

  • Crusty Juggler||

    He wanted to be in the SugarFree fan club?

  • Citizen X||

    Fun fact: the SugarFree Fan Club is a false front set up by the FBI; its entire purpose is so the sex crimes division has a place to assign agents that they'd like to "encourage" to quit the Bureau.

  • ||

  • Crusty Juggler||

    The only good part of that story is that firing was upheld. I like this part :

    Also posing in the photo was Officer Jerome Finnigan, who is serving a 12-year prison term for corruption.

    What the hell did he do?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Answer: a murder-for-hire scheme and income tax evasion, because he was stealing drug dealers money.

  • ||

    because he was stealing drug dealers money.

    Let's go with "drug dealers":

    Nine years before Finnigan ever spent a day in prison, he and other officers, according to a civil suit, broke into the home of a man who turned out to be a Chicago fire-fighter and tortured him in front of his wife and kids.

    Not that a firefighter can't be a drug dealer, but the ring got in trouble because of it's liberal policy regarding who would or wouldn't complain/snitch.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    No, you are right. I was incorrect. Home invasions does not mean he was just robbing dealers.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    he was stealing drug dealers money.

    I thought that was just civil asset forfeiture.

  • R C Dean||

    I'm guessing it was an offense against the PD, in some way.

  • ||

    Here:

    Nine years before Finnigan ever spent a day in prison, he and other officers, according to a civil suit, broke into the home of a man who turned out to be a Chicago fire-fighter and tortured him in front of his wife and kids.

    Honestly, it's a little sad that the shocking photo is the news with regard to this story.

  • Lee Genes||

    The federal complaint against Finnigan is mind-blowing. He openly discussed the different gang members and hitmen he would use to execute another officer who was giving him trouble. So prolific was Finnegan at corruption that he and the three officers he supervised accumulated over 200 internal affairs complaints. 200? How the hell is that even possible without action being taken?

    But racism is the problem with policing.

  • Lee Genes||

    The U.S. attorney's office had obtained the 2002 photo during a criminal investigation of Finnigan and other officers accused of participating in a robbery ring. The feds turned over the photo to the Chicago Police Department in 2013.

    This sounds like a Al Capone situation.

  • bassjoe||

    So... what NC is telling us is that we need concerned citizens following police cruisers around streaming video to Facebook Live at all times now?

  • Thymirus||

    Armed concerned citizens.

  • ||

    The North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is not happy

    Which, for someone looking to get elected or re-elected in NC, is a feature.

  • bassjoe||

    It's unfortunate because the ACLU is generally extremely good when it comes to police abuses and criminal justice reform. It's when it ventures into the social justice issues that it loses people that should normally support it.

  • ||

    It's when it ventures into the social justice issues that it loses people that should normally support it.

    Like me. They often conflate "right to do X" with "right to have someone else pay for you to be able to do X." Not to mention their rabid support for Mandated Racial Discrimination and the right of a woman to kill a baby right as the cervix opens up.

  • The Fusionist||

    Numero uno, I hope defendants will routinely get any footage relevant to the allegations against them, without all the hoops of a public records request.

    Numero two-o, I notice that the cops also need court permission to release video footage, so at least in theory they can't selectively leak footage which makes them look good without regard for the privacy of suspects or others.

    I'm trying to see a silver lining.

  • The Fusionist||

    I would also hope that they could amend this law so as to release any footage related to a cop shooting someone, especially shooting them dead.

    I would like to see automatic inquests like in Montana when someone dies at the hands of police or in police custody, and then all the evidence would be brought out.

  • bassjoe||

    #1: fortunately, that's a US constitutional requirement, not something some reactionary assholes in a state legislature can legislate away. Of course, whether the prosecutors turn it over properly is another question all together.

    #2: judges are generally pro-police these days. They don't even critically read warrant applications; you think they'll look closely as applications to release video footage?

  • The Fusionist||

    You could be right, of course.

    Let me run this up the flagpole: if dashcam videos and body-cam videos are public records, then would be end up getting to a UK-style constant monitoring through the back door?

  • ||

    constant monitoring through the back door

    Uh-huh.

    But, seriously - yes, as public records they will be available and someone will eventually start hoovering them up and running them through face-recognition software. I suspect that the NSA is probably already doing this and that the local po-po is giving them the footage on the DL.

    This will also lead to a demand for technology that thwarts face-recognition software. This may end up normalizing burqas in the west, which would totally suck.

  • The Fusionist||

    Yes, I know the Constitution requires disclosure to defendants. The constitution requires a lot of things.

  • ||

    That same constitution with which many prosecutors routinely wipe their drippy asses?

  • The Fusionist||

    It seems great minds think alike, as do ours.

  • R C Dean||

    This could be struck down on due process grounds, as creating barriers to the defendant getting access to potentially exculpatory information.

    The further restrictions on what the defendant does with the info once they get it strike me as prima facie First Amendment violations.

    Of course, this is a technical/niggling way to attack something that should be prima facie unacceptable, because no records created by public servants in the course of performing their duties should be secret from the public.

  • The Fusionist||

    I just thought of something - do vice cops have body cameras? Or hidden recorders?

  • ||

    Generally, these requirements have only been applied to uniformed cops, not to detectives or undercover cops. Undercover cops often wear "wires" (sound recording or transmitting devices) as part of their official duties. The smarter gangsters do know to check for those before doing deals, and a camera would be even harder to conceal since it needs a lens with a view of whatever is being recorded.

  • The Fusionist||

    (In disappointment, withdraws public-records request)

  • R C Dean||

    HB 972 also authorizes a needle exchange program for the state

    Is the state going to be funding it (which makes it much more of a mixed bag) or is it merely permission for private parties to set up their own? I'm not crazy about state support for people's dysfunctions, myself.

    and access to naloxone kits to help counteract drug overdoses.

    Same question.

    I would be willing to say its "really good news" only if its the state removing barriers, not the state creating more bureaucrats and more spending.

  • Lee Genes||

    Relinquishing control on all counts? Not likely.

  • ||

    ^This is a much more succinct response than mine below.

  • ||

    While I share your distaste for "free stuff," the realist in me knows that it's going to take a long time to wean the government from involvement with drug interdiction, remediation and "treatment." As such it is far less burdensome to buy a few needles for junkies and hire someone with a masters degree to distribute those than to maintain the whole cops/courts/jails enterprise.

    Also, while I don't lose much sleep over a junkie OD'ing, same as above - would rather the government not, but a far less burdensome option than what is done now. Also, the government creates the OD problem with interdiction which leads to widely varying purity which in turn contributes to overdosing. Most emergency medical services are provided by government, so it's reasonable to give those folks all the tools they need to do their jobs (SLDs about whether government ought to be involved in the first place).

  • SugarFree||

    Needle exchange is a solution to a state created problem. If they'd just lift the restrictions on buying clean needles then the exchange program wouldn't be necessary.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    This a way bigger affront than their transgender bathroom law, yet for some reason I'm guessing the proggie hate on NC will be far less intense over this law. Because FEELZ.

  • SugarFree||

    The bathroom stuff blows up because the right will push back. On this, the left and libertarians will object and the right will just stay quiet.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I suspect even the left, outside of maybe BLM and the ACLU, will make much stink about it. Where's the "oppressed victim group" angle to appeal to their feelz? I suppose the oppressed victim group is "everyone", but there's no SJW class warfare angle when anyone and everyone's a potential victim.

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