The N.C. Conference of District Attorneys has thrown its support behind the state’s new law regulating the release of police body cameras and dashboard recordings.
In a release issued Tuesday, the advocacy organization for the state’s 44 elected district attorneys and their staffs said it supports keeping those recordings out of the public eye. The law, which Gov. Pat McCrory signed last week and takes effect on Oct. 1, allows people who are recorded by police, or their representatives, to see footage only if law enforcement agencies agree or a court orders it released.
“We believe it provides procedural safeguards to protect citizens and crime victims’ privacy while allowing processes for public access to the information,” the organization’s statement said. “As ministers of justice, district attorneys have the responsibility to protect the integrity of every investigation to ensure that every suspect is afforded the right to a fair trial. This legislation ensures that any suspect in a criminal investigation will have the right to a full and fair investigation without part of the evidence being released to the public before any decision is made by professionals on whether to proceed with prosecution or any other action.”
The statement comes in a month when fatal police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana renewed calls for greater transparency of law enforcement actions and the shooting deaths of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge deepened anguish, fear and uncertainty among police.
Organizations seeking more transparency have been critical of the North Carolina body camera law.
As he signed the bill, McCrory described it as a balance between improving public trust in the police and respecting the rights of officers.
Under the law, a police chief or sheriff would decide whether to grant access to body or dashboard camera recordings. The law enforcement agency can consider a number of factors, including whether disclosure may harm someone’s reputation or jeopardize someone’s safety, or if confidentiality is “necessary to protect either an active or inactive internal or criminal investigation or potential internal or criminal investigation.” If access is denied, the subject can seek a court order to be allowed to see the video.
A court order also will be required for the general release of police camera footage. Even law enforcement agencies that want to release the footage must obtain a Superior Court judge’s order.
“It is important to the administration of justice that video related to alleged criminal conduct be treated as evidence, and not be released out of context, to the court of public opinion, before an investigation is completed and a charging decision is made,” said Andrew Murray, immediate past president of the Conference of District Attorneys.