CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46) – There is a renewed effort for police transparency and accountability in North Carolina.
For years, the public has had to jump through hoops to see police body camera video. Now, lawmakers are trying to make the process more forthcoming. Unlike other states where the video is turned over after a public records request, in North Carolina you have to go to court and petition a judge to have the video released – even though taxpayers pay for the cameras.
“It’s about access to justice,” said state Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed (D-Mecklenburg County), who says the current law prices people out of justice. “The public deserves transparency.”
Mohammed is sponsoring Senate Bill 510, which would require bodycam video be released within 48 hours upon request. The onus would be on law enforcement to explain to a judge why it can’t.
“This [current] law runs counter to a lot of national trends that you’re seeing across cities and states which are urging that law enforcement show greater transparency to build trust with the community,” said Mohammed. “Especially when you have officer involved use of force incidents like you saw with Mr. [George] Floyd.”
The state senator says there is momentum around police reform and is hopeful his bill will gain bipartisan support.
Body worn cameras are the public’s eyes and ears, a check on police power, and a way to see in real time the whole picture for yourself. Across the country, video from body cameras have shown officers to be heroes and also exposed excessive force.
“It’s absolutely critical that we get those videos out in a timely manner to the community,” said CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano.
Tufano hasn’t reviewed the bill but supports measures that increase transparency and helps build trust with the community.
“Having the opportunity to get those videos out in a timely manner, allowing the community to see exactly what it was that developed,” said Tufano, “again, it speaks to the accountability, the public trust, and the legitimacy of a police department.”
In 2019, a CMPD officer shot and killed Danquirs Franklin in the parking lot of a Burger king. Body camera video appeared to show Franklin lowering his gun when he was shot. The video was released only after local news organizations went to court.
Nationwide, body camera video is being used to see what officers saw. They have helped communities see what happened during officer-involved shootings. On Tuesday, police in Columbus, Ohio shot and killed a 16-year-old. The video showed the teen holding a knife and charging at another female. Last month, police shot and killed a 13-year-old in Chicago. Body camera video shows the teen appearing to drop a handgun and raise his hands before he was shot.
CMPD can’t release body camera video, even if it wanted to, unless a judge signs off under the current law.
“Anything that is proposed that would benefit the community,” said Tufano, “allowing us to continue to cultivate relationships and build trust, we’re all for it.”