Damon Seils, Carrboro Board of Aldermen member, has been shepherding a policy for more than a year that establishes guidelines for the use, management, storage and retrieval of audio and video recordings from body-worn camera recording systems.
Seils said he has been in collaboration with the Carrboro police chief, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and the Orange County Bias Free Policing Coalition to create a comprehensive policy that works for everyone.
“When we began, we had the intent to develop a policy that focused on transparency and accountability in law enforcement, as well as enhancing the police department’s law enforcement capabilities,” Seils said.
Board of Aldermen member Bethany Chaney said the North Carolina General Assembly recently passed a new state law regarding police-worn cameras that caused some concern.
“There is a fear that if only the police or only certain people can see the video then there isn’t the transparency that people want to see with cameras,” Chaney said.
Seils also believes that this new state law could inhibit the transparency that the new policy is aiming to achieve.
“(The new law) has a procedure for the public which allows them to come to the department and view a video they are in, but it prohibits the release of the video to anyone without a court order,” Seils said. “The main problem of the state law is that it limits our ability to support the value of transparency.”
In neighboring Chapel Hill, 14 officers currently wear body cameras, said Lt. Joshua Mecimore, spokesperson for the Chapel Hill Police Department. He said the experiences with body cameras have been similar to the frontline vehicle cameras that they have had for more than 15 years.
“We are always looking at our budget and looking at the effectiveness of our technology and whether it creates better outcomes in the community,” Mecimore said.
Cameras make it easy to look at an interaction and address if there was a problem. Mecimore said this can be helpful when they receive complaints about an officer.
“Officers seem to believe that cameras are a good thing because it documents their interactions with the public,” Mecimore said.
Seils said the Board of Aldermen is determined to adopt the best policy.
“There is still a case to be made for this policy. We are encouraging any folks who have a perspective they would like to share to contact us,” Seils said.
The Board of Aldermen is holding an open forum on Feb. 28 for members of the public to share their opinions. They will not make a final decision until after the forum and with further discussion.