Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts Wednesday urged lawmakers to repeal a new law on police videos – prompting a blistering response from the Senate’s top Republican as well as a lawmaker from her own party.
Roberts called for a special session to repeal HB 972, a law that spells out guidelines for release of police camera and video recordings.
The law passed last summer with strong bipartisan support and was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory.
“(It’s) time for the leadership in Raleigh to take the issue of transparency and accountability seriously and repeal HB 972,” Roberts, a Democrat, said Wednesday. “At the time when our community trust is so low, we cannot afford to go backward.”
Her appeal came on the heels of last week’s shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. Protesters and community leaders demanded the release of the videos. Police and city officials released two minutes of video four days after the shooting. Another two hours has not been released.
Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger called on Roberts to release all the videos. Berger said the mayor “botched” the city’s response to the violent protests, “ignoring repeated calls from her community and the press for transparency and answers.”
“Her complete failure in leadership illustrates the exact problem the law was designed to address: helping safeguard against when politicians like Jennifer Roberts make the wrong call like refusing to release all police footage related to this incident to the public,” Berger said in a statement. “If she is really concerned about transparency, she can and should release all videos – right now.”
The law that takes effect Oct. 1 will require anyone, including a police chief or sheriff, to obtain a court order before law-enforcement dashboard camera and body camera footage is publicly released.
Roberts called for transparency after the shooting. But she also asked for patience and supported Police Chief Kerr Putney’s decision to not immediately release the videos.
The ACLU Wednesday joined Berger’s call to release all the videos – but also agreed with Robert’s call to repeal HB 972. Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, called the law “shameful.”
“The truth is that HB972 … will make it impossible for officials to do so without a court order and is a significant step backward for transparency and police-community relations,” she said in a statement.
Sen. Joel Ford, a Charlotte Democrat, said lawmakers could revisit the bill in 2017. Ford was one of many Democrats who backed the bill. Only one Senate Democrat, Charlotte’s Jeff Jackson, voted against it.
“At the time, we didn’t have any regulation governing body cams or dash cams for police officers,” Ford said. “This was an attempt to provide access to the victims and to individuals who were captured by the video.”
But, he added, “based upon what has happened here in Charlotte there is a need for a revision to the legislation to provide greater transparency while also protecting the investigative process.”
Ford also chided Roberts for talking to the media about a special session before consulting with local lawmakers.
“This is another example of poor leadership, and you can quote me,” he said.
Frank Perry, state Secretary of Public Safety, said by establishing uniform guidelines for video release, the law is better than the “patchwork” of policies that exist currently.
“I believe it can be improved, but it itself is an improvement over what we have,” Perry said.
He said he would tweak the law by giving law enforcement agencies more discretion to release videos.