New North Carolina Law Blocks Police Accountability


by Trent Somes

As of this October, what police do in public is no longer public record in North Carolina.

A new law in North Carolina allows police departments to keep body and dash camera footage secret, even from the people that were filmed, unless issued a court order.

Police cameras become a topic of widespread discussion after a string of very public police brutality cases. Proponents of cameras think that the footage will increase police accountability, and will ultimately protect both the police officer (from false claims of abuse), and the public (from unaccountable police abuse).

Critics of body cameras say that the cameras are invasive, and should be treated as personal property of the officer, which was the de facto previous stance of many police departments in North Carolina, prior to the new law’s passage.

North Carolina isn’t alone in trying to deny the public from seeing the actions of officers. 19 states have legislation that restrict public access to it, and several have legislation on the way, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This law is causing some outrage among civil rights proponents, the Americans for Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina stated:

“Body cameras should be a tool to make law enforcement more transparent and accountable to the communities they serve, but this shameful law will make it nearly impossible to achieve those goals,” said Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina. “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. These barriers are significant and we expect them to drastically reduce any potential this technology had to make law enforcement more accountable to community members.”

The only way one can obtain body camera footage is by taking the Police Department to court under the new law, according to the ACLU.

This is not the only way Police departments are trying to get out of accountability measures. Police in Indiana claim that storing the data is far too expensive, an excuse they are using to ditch the cameras altogether.

Police departments are notorious for rejecting new forms of accountability, be it a Citizen’s Police Review Board, community policing, body/dash cameras, or other measures. But, in the long run, the measures will protect not only the police from false claims of brutality, for example, but also add a layer of protection for the public. The Justice Department is currently allocating $20 million to provide police departments across the country with body cameras.

“There is no doubt that these are challenging times for law enforcement and communities alike,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a statement. “Where the relationship of trust has frayed and frankly broken, we see the mistrust within the community; we also see the underlying fear within many of our friends and neighbors that when they are threatened by violence, they will have no one to call.”

When police do something in public, they should have no more of a reasonable expectation of privacy than we as citizens have. Body cameras add an extra layer of accountability for officers, and a protection for both parties.

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