House squabbles over police transparency in body camera bill


RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s first-ever regulations for access to police video footage won House approval Thursday over objections from some lawmakers who say the standards could cloak the recordings in secrecy.

The House gave initial endorsement to the measure that would exempt from public records video recordings from body cameras and dashboard cameras.

Law enforcement agencies could release footage to the people who are recorded. However, police could also withhold footage if it could jeopardize a person’s safety, harm a person’s reputation or is part of an active investigation. If the agency denies a request, the person would have to bring a claim in court.

The bill’s supporters argue that creating a state framework for releasing the footage will promote transparency.

Rep. Elmer Floyd, D-Cumberland said without any state guidelines, law enforcement agencies so far have been classifying the recordings as personnel records, which are not publicly accessible.

Floyd, who was one of the sponsors of last year’s study on the use of body cameras in the state, said if this bill is enacted it can be amended and approved later.

“This is not the end all and be all,” Floyd said. “It is a step along the pathway to improving access.”

But opponents called it a step in the wrong direction.

Rep. Nathan Baskerville, D-Vance, said the footage belongs to the public to hold police accountable. He said the bill creates burdens for those looking to access it, especially those who can’t afford to hire lawyers if their requests are denied.

Rep. Billy Richardson, D-Cumberland, said the bill has things backward. He said withholding the records should be the exception, not the rule.

“Do you really want to tell the people of North Carolina when it comes to their business, when it comes to the stakeholders’ business, that we are not going to create a presumption of openness?” Richardson said.

But Richardson, along with nearly half the House Democrats, voted for the measure as an improvement over the status quo.

The primary sponsor, Rep. Allen McNeill, R-Randolph, said the videos cannot be classified public records because some barriers are necessary to protect citizen privacy.

Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, said police footage could include private or embarrassing moments for both citizens and law enforcement.

“If we’re going to do that, why don’t we just put them all online?” he said. “We could run a TV show.”

The bill requires another House vote before being sent to the Senate.

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