On Monday, North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, signed into law a bill that makes police dashboard and body camera footage excepted from North Carolina’s public record.
House Bill 972 changes current law by making 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. Prior to this bill, dashcam footage was a matter of public record, and the law was silent as to body cams as they post dated relevant law.
However, as it turns out, classifying the footage outside of the public record is actually the least of what North Carolina’s lawmakers did. 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.
Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, has stated that,
“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.”
She added that,
“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.”
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Mike Meno, communications director for ACLU of North Carolina said, “we are equally concerned about the loss of dashcam [footage].”
Even more importantly, the exceptions to this law allow law enforcement officials to withhold footage by merely holding investigations open indefinitely. And even when they cannot justify leaving an investigation open, they can claim that disclosure would damage the reputation or safety of the officer(s) involved – as it certainly would if their actions were inappropriate.
Basically, McCrory and his band of lawmakers have once again deprived ordinary citizens of their rights and of transparency by law enforcement officials. The only way dashcam or body cam footage will see the light of day in North Carolina is if it is being disclosed to show the innocence of an officer. But in the case of excessive force, it will be buried indefinitely, or until it no longer matters.
Shame on Governor McCrory with his unbroken record of anti-citizen actions.