NC bill would shield police body-camera video from public disclosure

Posted June 7

— 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.

House Bill 972 also would apply to police surveillance video but not to videotaped interrogations.

Sponsor Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, said the measure strikes a balance between police accountability and the rights of private citizens, noting that cameras see what officers see, including people in their homes at some of their most difficult moments, such as a domestic violence incident.

"There are private things that could be very embarrassing to people, could be hurtful to people, and that doesn't need to be public," said Faircloth, a former police chief.

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.

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."

Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood, said making body camera and dashboard camera video more readily available to the public would increase the transparency of police operations.

"These records are videos of a public servant doing his public duty," Queen said. "It seems to me like the record is a public record."

Faircloth said his bill would increase transparency, noting that body camera video is currently treated as a personnel record by police departments statewide, which makes it nearly impossible for any member of the public to see it.

While many law enforcement agencies now embrace the use of body cameras, he said, "they also want to maintain their ability to do their criminal justice work and to control the environment to the point that we don't go too far."


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  • Scott Householder Jun 8, 4:15 p.m.
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    If you are in the video, you should be allowed a copy of THAT video. Privacy is of the utmost importance, however secrecy could be seen as dubious. Tough call here.

  • Roger Way Jun 8, 10:45 a.m.
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    I agree with this completely. The media and the average citizen has no inherent need to view or possess these videos. They are justly available for prosecution and defense purposes and to involved individuals through due judicial process.

    This also protects our First Responders who are, first and foremost, human beings prone to simple mistakes in the heat of a given situation.

    Good call on this one.

  • Scooter Barrette Jun 8, 10:42 a.m.
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    Solutions to the distrust of police and the increasing aggravation over police brutality does not include decreasing transparency and continuing to shield the public off from their actions. In all fairness, a rape victim loses privacy as soon as they bring charges against an individual. If they (or anyone) wants justice, the evidence needs to go public.

  • Robert Richardson Jun 8, 9:35 a.m.
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    "Under the bill, anyone captured in police video or audio could request to see it but would not be allowed to have a copy." If it is a privacy issue to protect the other people in the video/audio, then why can't the subject of the video/audio have a copy of it?

  • Matt Nickeson Jun 8, 9:18 a.m.
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    View quoted thread

    You're saying that when responding to a rape call the cameras will not be activated when they arrive on scene and initially assess the situation? They most certain should be. You are also overlooking the fact that each department sets it own protocols as to when a camera should or must be active. In a recent case in Harnett county someone being interviewed in relation to that crime was killed during an altercation. Should that have not been filmed? It was during the course of investigation and not in immediate response to the reported incident. There is also the question of improperly recorded time. If an officer forgets to turn off his/her camera does all of that video become public record having recorded someone when they had an expectation of privacy? As much as people would like to post a two sentence answer to this question the complexities of it's consequences are much too great for that kind of simplistic debate.

  • Victor Cruz-Saez Jun 8, 8:22 a.m.
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    "There are private things that could be very embarrassing to people, could be hurtful to people, and that doesn't need to be public," said Faircloth, a former police chief.
    Or could it be that our elected representatives in Raleigh don't want to get caught and the video released?

  • Larry Price Jun 8, 8:04 a.m.
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    I hope a balance can be struck where video recording of officers day-to-day activities remain available to the public. I believe police officers do their job in a professional manner the vast majority of the time. Body and dash cams are the best way to demonstrate this. Restricting this will send the wrong message.

  • Russell Allen Jun 8, 7:23 a.m.
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    View quoted thread

    All very true statements, but body cameras have nothing to do with the points you made. Body cameras provide transparency to both the police and the public actions at the time of a crime. The points you are making are during a questioning outside a normal traffic stop or warrant delivery.

  • Marty Martin Jun 8, 6:18 a.m.
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    Obviously, cops can turn off the camera to protect privacy.

  • Matt Nickeson Jun 7, 9:31 p.m.
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    Three things: 1.) Victims should have a right to privacy. A rape victim should not have to worry about the video of them recorded immediately after such a traumatic assault being made available in the public domain. 2.) Many people recorded have no criminal involvement and are recorded within the premises of their domicile where they do have and expectation of privacy. 3.) Knowing a recording will be made public will likely lead many witnesses to not cooperate with a police investigation for fear of reprisal.

    There is certainly a need to transparency but this is a complicated and serious issue that needs to be thoroughly considered, including unintended consequences.