House Bill 972 amends public records to not include body camera footage making them inaccessible by public request.
Under the new law, police departments can choose to reveal footage of incidents at their discretion upon request from the individual in the recording or their representative.
Any member of the public, a video subject or their representative whose request was denied will be required to obtain a court order from a judge in order to access the footage.
HB972’s implementation comes after recent protests in Charlotte concerning the shooting of Keith Scott by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. Police did not release body camera footage for four days after the incident
Jeff Welty, associate professor at the UNC School of Government, said under current law, police camera recordings are considered public records, and the new law will be unique.
“One aspect of our law that’s going to be unique is that I don’t think there is any other state in which there is no way to get access to a recording like this except through a court order,” he said.
Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said in a statement Wednesday the law is problematic because it lacks transparency and sets back relations between the police and the community.
“Under this shameful new law, North Carolinians will have to spend time and money seeking a court order if they want to obtain police footage they themselves are in — and even then, they could still be denied,” she said. “The law also prohibits law enforcement agencies from releasing footage in the public interest ... without a court order, which is why it has been criticized by police chiefs in Burlington, Fayetteville and Greenville and people across the state.”
Governor Pat McCrory, who signed the bill into law on July 11, said in a statement HB972 is designed to protect law enforcement and increase transparency.
“This legislation fulfills our commitment to protect our law enforcement and gain public trust by promoting uniformity, clarity and transparency,” Gov. McCrory said in a statement.
Ford Porter, campaign spokesperson for Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper, said in a statement the new law does not do enough to foster transparency.
“Attorney General Cooper has consistently said he supports the use of body cameras in law enforcement, but that the law signed by Gov. McCrory doesn’t do enough to ensure transparency,” he said. “Transparency is vital to building trust and respect between law enforcement and the communities they protect.”