Editorial: Outcry over Charlotte police shooting shows NC's police body cam law needs revision

Posted September 28, 2016

A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Sept. 28. 2016; Editorial# 8060
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Like too many of the laws recently passed by the General Assembly, the legislation restricting disclosure of video and audio recordings from police body-worn and dashboard-mounted cameras was done in haste. In just two days, amid the confusion and mayhem of the session’s end, the Senate got the bill from the House, passed it and it moved on to Gov. Pat McCrory.

We know first-hand, particularly following the turmoil that’s engulfed Charlotte, the importance timely release of these videos can have in providing information to the public. Even when not conclusive, being open and sharing information people can see can help assure citizens authorities are acting in the public interest.

Videos collected via body cams and dashboard cams can be critical law enforcement tools, helping solve crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice. They can help reinforce critical evidence. Further, they can show police acted properly so those who are guilty don’t avoid conviction on technicalities.

But now, days before House Bill 972, “Law Enforcement Recordings/No Public Record”becomes effective, significant weaknesses and concerns are all too obvious in this bill passed in a rush.

First, and foremost, the new law says the police videos are NOT public records. Unlike nearly all other information collected by government officials at taxpayer expense that is considered a public record, these recordings are not. So, instead of government officials having to prove why the information should NOT be available, it is taxpayers who must prove, in court, the public has a right to the video.

At a signing ceremony photo-op, McCrory said the new law would “gain the public trust by promoting uniformity, clarity and transparency.” The law does achieve two of the governor’s criteria. Providing uniformity and clarity in how such recordings are handled across the state removes guess work and confusion among the state’s various local and regional public safety agencies.

However, the law utterly fails in its most crucial aspect -- transparency.

When the public is denied access to information, there is no transparency, there is no way for taxpayers to independently determine if a version of events described by the accused, witnesses, or law enforcement, is accurate.

A news release from the N.C. Republican Party says one of the virtues of the law is that it will take “decision-making authority out of the hands of politicians” and leave it to “an independent judge to make decisions regarding the release.” This is quite an assertion coming from the same folks who, in other matters recently, have bitterly complained about decisions by what they termed politically motivated judges.

The state GOP also said the law allows anyone to petition “free of charge” for release of the videos; the reality is that any such effort will require those seeking release to hire a lawyer for representation, since the law enforcement agency will surely have taxpayer-funded legal representation in the courtroom.

The General Assembly should, as soon as possible, revise the law and make sure the recordings are public records with appropriate provisions for citizens to easily gain access to the recordings.

Assuring the public has access to information about the conduct of law enforcement in their community rarely conflicts with the conduct of investigations. But hiding that information can easily damage the hard-earned confidence law enforcement agency seek to develop in their communities.


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  • Benjamin Kite Oct 7, 4:52 p.m.
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    The GOP is scared that LEO bodycams will prove that "white privelege" is real. That is why they want the videos to be inaccessible. You don't need my opinion to tell you that is true. SEARCH YOUR HEART....you already knew it.

  • Chase Mearound Sep 28, 2:14 p.m.
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    all I see is $600,00 here, 500,000 there, on hundrds of forces, 100 officer making 2400 hours (100 days) of tape everyday to be reviewed, stored and at some point outsourced to a third party, on the off chance they'll catch a 'clerical error'. There is always America wildest police chases and Cops to draw on for hopes of real transparency and a good hardy laugh.

  • Aiden Audric Sep 28, 11:40 a.m.
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    View quoted thread

    Why is 'they'?

  • Matt Clinton Sep 28, 11:39 a.m.
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    View quoted thread

    Exactly! These protestors are simply morbid vultures circling any convenient corpse so they can rip off the flesh to feed their agenda... or just use it as an excuse to loot sneakers, drugs, and TVs.

  • Teddy Fowler Sep 28, 10:23 a.m.
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    In this case it would not have mattered... they don't care what the facts are in this case... they still would have rioted... destroyed property... looted for their own personal gains.... beat up innocents .... and even murder....

  • William Patterson Sep 28, 10:14 a.m.
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    everything McCrory has done needs revision .....he is way out of touch with the times...and most people

  • Mary O'Shields Sep 28, 10:00 a.m.
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    This is another law passed in haste that will likely be overturned by the courts.

  • B.c. Jimmy Sep 28, 9:48 a.m.
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    Not in N.C. Lee.

  • Lee Rogers Sep 28, 9:20 a.m.
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    View quoted thread

    That is not true at all. Police do this all the time.

  • B.c. Jimmy Sep 28, 9:18 a.m.
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    No. Police departments do not release evidence to public view prior to a trial. It would prejudice potential jurors.