Body cams, or cameras worn by law officers, have been touted as a way to provide a record of confrontations between law officers and members of the public. The video could be used to prove unprofessional behavior by police – or to show that police or deputies acted properly in making an arrest or confronting a citizen. The cameras are becoming more widespread after confrontations in the last few years in which officers were accused of improper use of force and amateur footage sometimes proved those accusations to be correct.
Unfortunately, lawmakers in North Carolina are siding with law enforcement lobbyists when it comes to regulating the public disclosure of body camera videos. Those lobbyists argue that restricting the release protects the privacy rights of those who are recorded, and they’ve gotten a measure passed by state lawmakers. But the main interest protected is that of law officers.
Police officers who act properly should endorse disclosing the videos. The recorded images can protect them, for instance, against false accusations of police brutality.
As to whether the video is a public record and should be available to everyone, there should be no argument. Law officers are public employees. What they do in performing their duties is public record. The body camera videos fall in that category. It’s unfortunate that legislators have overwhelmingly sided with law officers’ lobbyists in restricting access.