Body Camera Footage Legislation in NC
Accountability and transparency are terms being heard more often lately in the law enforcement community, most commonly when an incident has occurred which highlights whether changes need to be made. One such example is in North Carolina. The 2016 killing of Andrew Brown, Jr. at the hand of a Pasquotank County deputy has resulted in North Carolina’s body camera laws coming under heavy scrutiny in recent years.
North Carolina does not mandate that all of its officers wear a body-worn camera (BWC); but it does have laws in place around how any BWC footage can and should be shared. Though BWC footage is not considered a public record in the state, recent legislation has created some changes in North Carolina.
Criminal Justice Laws in North Carolina Evolve
Under North Carolina’s current body camera law, any footage obtained from BWC and dashboard cameras is not considered public record and is only released once a judge is petitioned and agrees to do so. Senate Bill 300, which was signed into law in September 2021, took aim at the disclosure of body camera footage.
The bill’s provision about body camera footage disclosure puts the families of victims into focus. Relatives of victims who experienced serious injury or death can request the disclosure of the footage; and law enforcement agencies must then file a petition to the superior court within three business days. Though this bill changes how footage is disseminated to victims’ families, it still does not make it immediately available to the public or media without a petition to the judge.
Should Body Camera Footage Be Public Record?
In an effort to boost transparency and improve relationships between law enforcement and the public, communities around the country have sought to share and release body camera footage when it is in the best interest of the public. However, some agencies do not treat this footage as a public record which invariably leads to disagreements over access.
Though the number of body cameras in use may be expanding, access to the footage is not necessarily following suit. In North Carolina, body camera footage is not considered a public record, so consideration is given to who is requesting the footage when determining whether it will be released and when.
Though there is some disagreement about whether or not releasing body camera footage has a direct impact on transparency, many feel that it could be a good first step in improving law enforcement accountability in communities. As the amount of audio and footage begins to grow, government agencies must consider how to deal with these records (or non-records in some cases) to best serve the public interest.
How North Carolina Compares with Other States’ Body Camera Laws
Under North Carolina law, police and sheriff’s departments do not have the authority to release body camera footage on their own. That decision must come from a judge after family members or the public petition the courts. Though many states across the country have exemptions for releasing footage during active investigations, North Carolina is different in that it takes into consideration the party making the request.
Laws governing the release of police body camera footage likely align with states’ preexisting public records laws. Several states including Ohio, Connecticut, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas, treat police body camera footage as a public record. Nancy La Vigne, executive director of the Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Policing states, “The original goal of body cameras was to enhance transparency. Theoretically, you would think that that means that the footage that’s captured on cameras would be released. However, that’s been very uneven across the country.”
BWC Footage and Other Records Require the Right Technology Solutions
If your agency works with video and audio records, processing these requests is an important but time-consuming undertaking. Implementing video and audio redaction solutions helps simplify the process and promote public trust. Adaptable, efficient public records solutions help streamline even the most time-intensive processes for state and local agencies. To learn more about GovQA’s secure, automated, and customized public records solutions, visit GovQA.com or contact us here.
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