In the wake of several police incidents that hampered public trust over the past few years, many precincts and state law enforcement agencies moved in lockstep toward installing body cameras on officers. If allegations of police abuse arose, the theory went, either side could help prove their case with the police body cam footage.
Good luck with that in North Carolina now. On Monday, July 11, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed House Bill 972 into law. This bill makes obtaining body camera or dash camera footage from a police officer next to impossible.
Paradoxically, Gov. McCrory praised the new bill as a boon for “clarity and transparency” when the move only serves to hide evidence from the public. Individuals filing a civil lawsuit may encounter serious issues when trying to obtain evidence from police video sources as a result.
Despite the implications of this law, some of the thought behind HB 972 makes a great deal of sense for police body cam footage. For one, the State of North Carolina had no uniform policy regarding when, why and how the public could gain access to the recordings. Each police department left it up to their own discretion as to which situations would necessitate the footage’s release.
Without uniformity, courts faced tough decisions that would have the effect of setting inconsistent policy that varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Lawmakers sought to remedy the issue, albeit it in a heavy-handed way.
Another concern was the storage of digital footage from body and dash cams. With several hours of new footage coming in every day, file storage and maintenance costs can skyrocket. They rise even higher when the public has a mandatory access period for the footage, as was the case in Indiana. New laws allowed citizens a minimum of 190 days worth of footage to access. Since Indiana precincts were responsible for the costs of storage, they opted to ditch the cameras instead.
North Carolina lawmakers understand this issue, but some believe in offloading the costs to individual, local departments as opposed to the state.
In the midst of these changes, it’s important to remember that someone will always have access to the camera footage. Anyone depicted in a video or directly involved with a video (such as a person heard in the recording outside the frame), can view the footage but not obtain a copy.
All others must seek a court order, which is an expensive prospect for many. “People who are filmed by police body cameras should not have to spend time and money to go to court in order to see that footage,” wrote Susanna Birdsong, North Carolina’s ACLU policy counsel, in an official statement. Indeed, individuals who could benefit from access to the footage for the purposes of a civil lawsuit could be left out in the cold as their requests are not heard.
If you are trying to build a personal injury suit or similar case and police camera footage could aid your case, contact a North Carolina personal injury attorney now. We can help you file for a court order to release the footage you need for your case to succeed.
Call (704) 307-4350 for a free case evaluation today.