On July 11th, North Carolina’s Governor signed legislation regarding the use of body cams for police officers. The measure, House Bill 972 / S.L. 2016-88 is titled, “Law Enforcement Recordings/No Public Record”.
Governor McCrory held a public signing of the bill. McCrory said that, “when used by itself, technology can mislead and misinform”. McCrory said the goal of the legislation was “uniformity”, “clarity” and to “expedite tested disclosure for a fair process which ensures transparency”.
The new law blocks access by the public to body cam footage, but the footage can be obtained by making a written request.
“A person requesting disclosure of a recording must make a written request to the head of the custodial law enforcement agency that states the date and approximate time of the activity captured in the recording or otherwise identifies the activity with reasonable particularity sufficient to identify the recording to which the request refers.”
Requirements for the request include that the person making such a request must meet certain requirements.
(1) A person whose image or voice is in the recording.
(2) A personal representative of an adult person whose image or voice is in the recording, if the adult person has consented to the disclosure.
(3) A personal representative of a minor or of an adult person under lawful guardianship whose image or voice is in the recording.
(4) A personal representative of a deceased person whose image or voice is in the recording.
(5) A personal representative of an adult person who is incapacitated and unable to provide consent to disclosure.
If a law enforcement agency denies disclosure or has failed to provide disclosure more than three business days after the request, the person seeking the footage “may apply to the superior court in any county where any portion of the recording was made for a review of the denial of disclosure.”.
The court at that point may conduct an in‑camera review of the recording and release it only if the court believes that law enforcement has violated the use of their discretion in the initial request. However, the person who receives the footage via the courts “shall not record or copy the recording.”.
In short, media or groups seeking body cam footage would have to seek a court order to release the footage requested. That request may not be granted if the court deems the footage to contain confidential information or may place the persons in the footage in jeopardy. The main reason for a court to release such footage is when it is, “necessary to advance a compelling public interest”.
While keeping the integrity of ongoing investigations is necessary, the onerous nature of having to go to court to obtain footage arguably is not an effort to ‘advance public interest’.
The legislation also contains provisions for a “needle and hypodermic syringe exchange program”. The program would include the disposal of used needles and hypodermic syringe and supply needles, hypodermic and syringes at no cost in order to be sur that needles, hypodermic or syringes are not being reused or shared. This portion of the legislation stipulates that, “No public funds may be used to purchase needles, hypodermic syringes, or other injection supplies.”.