House Panel Approves Bill Restricting Public Access to Police Body Camera Footage
RALEIGH – A bill that would allow law enforcement agencies to shield officer worn body camera footage from public view unless ordered to release the footage by a court was approved by a North Carolina House committee today. HB 972 was approved by the House Judiciary II Committee and sent to the House Finance Committee. If it is approved by the second committee, the bill could be sent to the House floor for a vote.
Under HB 972, body camera and dash camera footage would not be a public record. Law enforcement agencies would have the discretion to release footage to people who are recorded, but if the agency denies a request to release the footage, the recorded individual would have to bring a claim in court to attempt to obtain the footage. There would be no mechanism for law enforcement to release videos of public interest to the general public other than through a court order.
Dozens of law enforcement agencies in North Carolina are using or have plans to acquire police body cameras, but many lack policies that allow public access to the recordings.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina, which has advised many local law enforcement agencies on their body camera policies, opposes HB 972.
“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.”