Under the Dome

Gov. Roy Cooper’s comment on body cam footage draws rebuke from police group

Garner police officer Kevin Murray tests a body camera as he wears one before starting his patrol in Garner on April 8, 2015.
Garner police officer Kevin Murray tests a body camera as he wears one before starting his patrol in Garner on April 8, 2015. cseward@newsobserver.com

Gov. Roy Cooper said this week that he’d like to see more “transparency” in how police body camera footage is handled, but the N.C. Police Benevolent Association isn’t happy with his stance.

Cooper, a Democrat, spoke about the issue in response to a reporter’s question Thursday at a news conference announcing his pick to lead the Department of Public Safety, veteran State Bureau of Investigation agent Erik Hooks.

Cooper was asked if he wants to change a state law passed last year that shields police camera and dashboard camera footage from public view unless a Superior Court judge allows its release. People shown in the recordings would be able to view footage if a top law enforcement official or a judge consents.

“That will be something that Erik and I talk about,” Cooper said. “I’m obviously in favor of more disclosure when it comes to body cameras and dashboard cameras. I think those kinds of things can be helpful both to law enforcement and people in the community. What we’ll be looking at is as much transparency as possible.”

The Police Benevolent Association, which represents 10,000 law enforcement officers across the state, issued a news release Friday saying it’s “very disappointed” that Cooper’s comment indicates that “his first law enforcement priority is the investigation of the new police camera law.”

Cooper did not say the issue is his first priority, and he did not bring up the topic until a reporter asked about it.

“It is critically important that our chiefs and sheriffs, as officers of our courts, have the opportunity to utilize our judiciary in determining what is protected evidence of a police investigation versus what is public record,” association president Randy Byrd said in a news release. “It is puzzling to us that our new governor, who spent the past 16 years as North Carolina’s ‘Top Cop,’ would consider judicial review pursuant to the rule of law to somehow be problematic.”

Cooper’s concerns about the body cam law aren’t new. In July during his campaign for governor, he said he would have preferred a bill that started with the presumption that the information is public, then added exceptions for situations such as protection of witnesses, informants and investigations.