North Carolina governor, Pat McCrory, signed into law a bill that makes police camera footage – dashboard and body – excepted from North Carolina’s public record.
Current state law classifies dashcam video as public record, but it does not classify the newer body cam footage. Having no legislation to guide them, police departments have rushed to differentiate between the indistinguishable. Contrary to dashcam footage, they have considered body cam footage to be a personnel matter and as such part of an officer’s personnel file and therefore, private.
House Bill 972, the bill in question, makes dashcam and body cam footage accessible to those who can be seen or heard on them. It treats their personal representatives the same way. If a person is denied their request, it allows the person to petition the state’s superior court for an order requiring disclosure.
However, what makes the law particularly stringent and exclusionary is the conditions under which requests can be denied. Many say that it’s a case of the exception swallowing the rule. Specifically, the law provides that requests can be denied in order to protect a person’s safety or reputation, or if the recording is part of an active investigation.
In his now trademark way of passing highly controversial legislation while saying “there’s nothing to see here,” McCrory defended the bill.
“If you hold a piece of film for a long period of time, you completely lose the trust of individuals,” McCrory said.
At the same time, the governor said that government officials have learned that
“if you immediately release a video, sometimes it distorts the entire picture, which is extremely unfair to our law enforcement officials.”
The legislation is clearly meant to shut out the public from obtaining any police footage and to draw a bigger line of division between the police and the public. This fact is made even more evident as on the very same day, July 11, McCrory created the Blue Alert System, a system to help catch anyone who plans to attack or harm public safety officials.
The legislation comes in the wake of two widely reported police shooting deaths – those of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile – which have ignited nationwide protests. On Thursday, five Dalls police officers were shot by a sniper at an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
Continuing on, McCrory stated that,
“it was news that shook this nation. It was news that shook communities. It was news that shook law enforcement communities throughout the United States and right here in North Carolina…Sadly, our country and state have been through these types of situations before. We’ve learned from them, we’ve recovered from them and we’ve united after them. I’ve seen it firsthand as a mayor.”
At a time when citizens are concerned about having protection against police use of force, North Carolina becomes the second state to double down in the other direction.
In May, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law a bill that makes all attacks against law enforcement or first responders, including EMTs and firefighters, a hate crime. Proponents of that law argued that despite the fact that much of it is redundant, by passing the law, the state was making a showing of how much it valued law enforcement officers.
Typical for McCrory, he managed to turn the issue on its head,
“my goal is to protect those who protect us.”
He claimed that the law, which provides for nothing for citizens, is fair for everyone, adding that,
“it’s better to have rules and guidelines with all this technology than no rules and guidelines whatsoever.”
North Carolina’s new law will go into effect on Oct 1.