Commentary

Editorial calls on McCrory to veto police body camera bill

A day after correctly describing the supposed “compromise” on HB2 an embarrassing joke, the Greensboro News & Record gets it exactly right this morning with a lead editorial decrying the bill passed by lawmakers this week to keep police body camera recordings secret.

“Citing vague and flimsy concerns about ‘privacy,’ state lawmakers overwhelmingly have passed a bill that makes public access to police body and dash camera video all but impossible without the blessing of a sheriff or police chief.

The bill, whose primary sponsors include High Point Republican John Faircloth, effectively places all of the power to release or withhold the footage in the hands of law enforcement. Supporters advertise House Bill 972 as a way to provide public access and transparency, but that’s a hollow and deceptive come-on. And they know it.

How awful is this bill? Where to begin?

It rolls back current policies that help create public access. For instance, this means that if this bill becomes law, the decision whether to release sealed body-camera footage of a deputy’s fatal shooting of an unarmed man, 38-year-old Todd Burroughs of Stoneville, would rest solely with Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page — in whom the community’s trust already is low.

It means a new Greensboro ordinance governing the release of police video, which in itself does not go far enough, would be rendered moot by an even worse state law.

It rescinds a city council’s ability to order the release of a video in the interest of maintaining public confidence — as current state law allows.”

After explaining why the bill conflicts with recent actions by the Greensboro City Council that were at least somewhat promising, the editorial concludes this way:

“Finally, while HB 972 supposedly allows people who are depicted in videos to request to see the footage, it adds exceptions so ridiculously broad that they grant police chiefs and sheriffs wide discretion to say no:

  • If the footage could jeopardize an individual’s safety.
  • If it could hurt someone’s reputation.
  • If it is part of an ongoing investigation or could pose “a serious threat to the fair, impartial and orderly administration of justice.”

This could close the door to virtually anyone seeing the recordings. While the bill does allow anyone who is denied access to the footage to appeal to a judge, what would be the point? The legal loopholes are so gaping you could sail an oil tanker through them.

This was not the spirit with which cities like Greensboro adopted the police camera technology. This was supposed to be about building trust and accountability, but this bill would do anything but that.

At least its title is honest: ‘Law Enforcement Recordings/No Public Record.’

The governor should veto this cynical affront to the public good.”

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