Critics, including the state’s attorney general, said it could have the opposite effect of minimizing police accountability.
“Technology like dashboard cameras and body cameras can be very helpful, but when used by itself technology can also mislead and misinform, which causes other issues and problems within our community,” McCrory said.
Under HB 972, audio and video captured by police body cameras or dashboard cameras are not public records, meaning the general public has no right to see or obtain copies of them.
A person whose image or voice is captured in the recording may request its disclosure in writing from the law enforcement agency. If granted, only a look at the recording is possible; if someone wants to copy or record the footage, that person has to petition a judge for a court order for its release. If the person is deceased, incapacitated or a minor, a relative or representative can make the request on their behalf.
The law makes North Carolina the latest state to regulate access to law enforcement recordings as departments grapple with the new technology.
“At minimum, people recorded on police body cameras should be able to view it and have a copy,” ACLU of North Carolina spokesman Mike Meno said. “This law prevents that by making people go to court to obtain it.”
How did law come about?
Previously, North Carolina had no uniform state law regarding the release of body camera footage, leaving jurisdictions to make their own rules. Dashboard camera video was considered personnel footage, allowing for its release under limited circumstances.
Now, both are off-limits to the public without a court order from a judge.
“It’s better to have rules and guidelines with all this technology than no rules and guidelines whatsoever.”
The measure has been in the works since April and public meetings began soon after, said Rep. Pat Hurley, who co-chairs the state House’s Appropriations, Justice and Safety Committee and one of the bill’s sponsors.
The conversation about the legislation began after Hurley attended meetings of the Criminal Justice Information Network
, which facilitates information sharing among law enforcement agencies.
She learned that several police departments were implementing their body camera policies differently, prompting the formation of an oversight committee to explore the possibility of offering continuity for the departments.
“It had nothing to do with the recent shootings,” she said. “We felt because of the cost of implementing the program as well as the cost of storing the tapes, that departments should have some guidance and the local departments should fund them, not the state.”
Reps. John Faircloth and Allen McNeill, both former police officers, were tapped to hold meetings with stakeholders and report back.
Before HB 972, most departments classified body camera footage as personnel records, making them “practically impossible” to be released without officers’ permission, McNeill said.
“There was no process for the disclosure or release of body camera footage,” he said. “HB 972 was the culmination of all those public meetings and input.”
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper told CNN affiliate WTVD-TV
the law goes too far. Cooper, a Democrat, said recordings from body cameras and dashboard cameras should be treated as public record, with some exceptions for crime victims or investigations.
Other critics of the measure said it would reduce police accountability at a time of heightened public discourse on the topic after police-involved shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota and deadly sniper attacks on Dallas police.