By Kate Wheeling
Police departments across the United States are equipping their officers withbody cameras, but few have laws on the books to control who can access the footage. In North Carolina, a bill that would prevent the public from viewing police body camera footage without a court order is making its way through various state committees. The measure — known as HB 972 — passed the House Judiciary Committee this past week and is under review by the Finance Committee. The next stop, if approved, is the House floor.
Despite its early success, HB 972 is not without opposition, most of which has argued that, in giving police officers room for discretion in choosing whether to release any footage, the bill will actually decrease trust in law enforcement agencies. While the law would require police departments to release footage to individuals who appear in the recordings, it also provides agencies with a long list of exceptions for that obligation. “Many people simply cannot afford to bring a claim in court in order to obtain body camera footage,” said Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has already come out against the bill.
Proponents of the bill cite privacy issues with making all recordings public record, such as footage of individuals’ homes or confidential informants.
Police departments across the country are grappling with how to effectively manage this new stream of evidence. Should body camera footage be treated like any other police record? Or is there something unique about the footage that requires unique legislation like the bill proposed in North Carolina?
Picture: Sanderflight (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons