RALEIGH – A bill that would allow law enforcement agencies to shield officer worn body camera footage from the public unless ordered to release the footage by a court was passed by the North Carolina Senate and House today and sent to Governor Pat McCrory for his signature or veto.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina, which has advised many local law enforcement agencies on their body camera policies, opposes HB 972 and is urging the governor to veto the bill.
“This bill is an affront to transparency and we are urging Governor McCrory to veto it,” said Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina. “Giving law enforcement such broad authority to keep video footage secret – even from individuals who are filmed – will damage law enforcement’s ability to build trust with the public and destroy any potential this technology had to make officers more accountable to the communities they serve. People who are filmed by police body cameras should not have to spend time and money to go to court in order to obtain access to that footage.”
Under HB 972, body camera and dash camera footage would not be a public record. Law enforcement agencies would have the discretion to release footage to people who are recorded, but if the agency denies a request to release the footage, the recorded individual would have to bring a claim in court to attempt to obtain the footage. There would be no mechanism for law enforcement to release videos of public interest to the general public other than through a court order.
Dozens of law enforcement agencies in North Carolina are using or have plans to acquire police body cameras, but many lack policies that allow public access to the recordings.
Before sending the bill to Governor McCrory, lawmakers attached language that will allow organizations to operate needle and hypodermic syringe exchange programs.
“It’s unfortunate that lawmakers have attached this sensible measure to promote public health to such a problematic and damaging bill,” Birdsong said.