Commentary

Not surprisingly, NC House headed the wrong way on police body camera issue

As WRAL reported last evening, the the state House is advancing a bill to prevent the public from gaining access to law enforcement information that ought to be public.

“A bill that would prevent video from police body cameras and dashboard cameras from disclosure under state public records laws cleared a House committee Wednesday and could be on the House floor by next week….

Under the bill, anyone captured in police video or audio could request to see it but would not be allowed to have a copy. No copies of police video could be released to the public unless ordered by a judge.”

First amendment and good government advocates blasted the bill. Again, here’s WRAL:

“Jonathan Jones, director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition and a communications professor at Elon University, called the proposal a secrecy bill.

‘This bill provides that the only right a citizen has to get access to that video is by filing a lawsuit, and that’s prohibitively expensive,’ Jones said. ‘We know from the public records law, which also has a similar provision, that citizens are unable to file those lawsuits.'”

After the committee meeting the ACLU of North Carolina issued a statement criticizing the bill as well. This is from that statement:

“The great potential that body cameras have to increase police transparency and accountability can be realized only if there is some level of guaranteed public access to recordings,” said Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina. “This bill gives far too much discretion to law enforcement agencies to decide when and whether footage is released – even to individuals who are recorded and who request their own footage. If HB 972 becomes law, public trust in law enforcement across North Carolina will suffer, and the millions of dollars being spent to equip officers with body cameras could be squandered with little or no benefit to the public. Many people simply cannot afford to bring a claim in court in order to obtain body camera footage.”

Let’s hope lawmakers think the issue through more thoroughly before enshrining secrecy into state law in this vitally important area.

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