New NC bill would change who can watch police body cam video without judge’s consent

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – Most law enforcement agencies in North Carolina now make the body-worn camera a part of an officer’s uniform.

But not everyone can see the body cam video – unless a Superior Court judge gives the order to police to release the video.

That could change if a new bill in the North Carolina General Assembly becomes law.

House Bill 791 says city councils, county commissioners, and citizen review boards should be able to see police body cam videos without a judge’s consent.

“Over the past year or so I’ve had discussions with local government officials and their concerns about some of the difficulties they had in having to go to Superior Court judge to get permission for their council or their city manager or their review boards to view the body cams that were being held by police officials,” said Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford). “It’s local governments’ responsibility to oversee and manage the operation of the police department and this is the work product of the police officers in that department. And so management certainly has a right, I think, to be involved in reviewing that work product.”

Faircloth sponsors HB 791. He says the bill improves the current law governing body cam video. He says local leaders won’t have to delay litigation because they have to wait for a Superior Court judge to release the body cam video.

However, the general public would still have to get a judge’s consent to see the video.

“It’s not public record because it very well could be evidence in court or it could be evidence in a review procedure for police officers involved and it’s just appropriate that the management and the council have the ability to view these records,” said Faircloth.

“Not a bad bill because we want as much transparency around body cam footage but if it’s not going to include making it an easier process for the public to view it – it’s not ultimately accomplishing much,” said Robert Dawkins of NC SAFE Coalition.

Dawkins’ coalition monitors public policy. He says he would like the see the public get access to body cam videos.

House Bill 791 says the elected leaders and boards cleared to watch body cam videos could only watch it during closed sessions and each person would have to sign a confidentiality agreement.

“With that nondisclosure agreement they would have to sign, I don’t see how we would find out anything any quicker than we would,” said Dawkins.

Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) is a co-sponsor of HB 791.

“I will say that on the police side, this whole notion that certain things should not be released while an investigation is ongoing does make some sense and on the DA’s side, the notion that we do not want to pollute a potential jury pool that prejudicing them on way or another also makes some sense,” said Alexander. “So there’s a balance that we have to strike between the public’s right and need to know and ultimately having justice for both any police officers that may be involved and anybody who has been a victim of police violence.”

Alexander told WBTV that he believes certain elected leaders should be able to watch the body cam videos.

“Because citizens, number one, will reach out to local elected officials and ask questions about what just went on and your first line of elected officials are going to be your city council people, your county commission people, said Alexander. “And if they don’t have access, if they haven’t been able themselves to talk directly with the responsible people – chief of police, city manager – then they can’t really do their jobs and respond adequately to questions citizens bring.”

HB 791 was introduced the same day a Superior Court judge in Mecklenburg County ordered Charlotte Mecklenburg Police to release the police body worn camera video of an officer-involved fatal shooting that happened at Burger King on Beatties Ford Road.

Faircloth says the bill’s introduction to the N.C. House was not timed with the video’s release.

“Oh no. I wasn’t even aware of that particular situation,” he said. “This bill is a continuation of my work product from three, four years ago and concluding that we need to go a step further in making it easier for city government and county government as well to handle these situations.”

Copyright 2019 WBTV. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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