Police will follow a new set of procedures for the release of footage from body cameras and dashboard cameras, if Gov. Pat McCrory signs a bill headed for his desk.
Dash-cam footage is now considered public record, but current law doesn’t address access to body-cam videos and many agencies consider them confidential personnel records. House Bill 972, which passed the Senate Wednesday on a 48-2 vote and the House on a 89-19 vote, would state that neither kind of footage is public record.
Under the bill, heads of law enforcement agencies could make the recordings available to people shown or heard in the footage as well as personal representatives of the people recorded. Agencies would have authority in choosing times and locations for viewing or listening.
Police would be able to withhold footage for privacy and safety reasons, and denied requests could be appealed to Superior Court judges.
“The judge is the middle person, and we particularly made it the Superior Court judge because they are a little more removed from the day-to-day interactions with law enforcement agencies,” said Rep. John Faircloth, a Republican from High Point and former police chief who sponsored the bill.
“People (in recordings) are not allowed to duplicate it or take it with them,” Faircloth said. “They can only view it. If they want to have a copy, they will have to go through the judge.”
Some Democrats have argued the bill makes it too easy for law enforcement to avoid releasing the footage. Others, including Democratic Rep. Robert Reives of Sanford, have concerns that recordings could end up tying up the courts with unnecessary workload.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina on Wednesday called on McCrory to veto the bill. Susanna Birdsong, the group’s policy counsel, said in a news release the bill is “an affront to transparency.”
“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,” Birdsong said.
Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president at the N.C. Sheriff’s Association, praised the bill as easy to understand and said it protects the privacy of individuals who are recorded.
“The Sheriff’s Association supports this bill as a high priority,” Caldwell said. “We’re very much in favor of it and think it’ll bring a lot of clarity and simplicity to an issue where there has been a lack of clarity.”
An amendment added by the Senate at the request of Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, allows the state Administrative Office of the Courts to prepare a petition, free of charge, for someone asking a court to order the release of the recording.