Politics & Government

NC House OKs police body cam public records rules

A bill being considered in the General Assembly would require the release of police body camera videos when a person shown or heard in the video requests a copy.
A bill being considered in the General Assembly would require the release of police body camera videos when a person shown or heard in the video requests a copy. cseward@newsobserver.com

The N.C. House voted 87-19 Thursday to approve rules for the release of police body camera footage.

The bill would require law enforcement to release videos when a person shown or heard in the video requests a copy. If the person involved is under 18, incapacitated or dead, someone authorized to represent that person – such as a lawyer – can request the footage. The bill gives law enforcement agencies a number of exceptions from releasing footage.

Those exceptions include footage that’s “of a highly sensitive personal nature,” footage that would “create a serious threat ... to the administration of justice,” and footage that would “jeopardize the safety of a person.”

Denied requests for video can be appealed to a Superior Court judge, and appeals also are allowed when the agency doesn’t respond within three business days.

Law enforcement agencies aren’t currently required to release body cam videos, and supporters of the bill said it’s a good balance between transparency and privacy concerns.

“It provides transparency, accountability, and it’s going to reduce complaints as it relates to the police department,” said Rep. Elmer Floyd, a Fayetteville Democrat. “It would improve community relations within our community.”

But Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat, said he’s concerned that police chiefs would make the call about releasing videos – meaning they could refuse to show it to the city manager or city attorney. They might need the footage to make decisions about possible lawsuits stemming from a police incident. “You don’t have the civil action covered that might result out of that,” Michaux said.

Others said the bill makes it too difficult to obtain body cam footage. Rep. Nathan Baskerville, a Henderson Democrat, said videos should be public records similar to other government documents. “Why would we move in a direction away from transparency?” he asked. “Why would we put more burdens on individuals to avail themselves of due process?”

Rep. Bill Brawley, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said wider access would mean body cam videos would end up on TV.

“We’re not turning it into a free for all where every one of us gets to look over the shoulder of every police officer, every hour of every day,” he said.

An amendment to loosen restrictions on releasing footage failed in a 40-64 vote.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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