The North Carolina General Assembly is currently considering legislation that would give law enforcement agencies the authority to release video recordings of incidents captured by body-worn and in-car cameras utilized by police officers. The current legislation, HB 713, overwhelmingly passed the House, and is now with the Senate.
The current North Carolina bill is an attempt to provide greater transparency in police use of force incidents that involve the public interest, such as those that have received significant attention throughout the country over the last few months. Many states have recently passed legislation to allow the release of police recorded videos.
The North Carolina bill does not make police videos public records, so they cannot be automatically provided to the public. Under the bill, body-worn and in-car camera videos are explicitly identified as records of a criminal investigation, which means they can be inspected and copied only with a court order – just like other criminal investigation records.
Of significance, the bill allows (but does not require) a law enforcement agency to release the video even without the consent of the police officer who captured the video. This is a significant departure in the law, as these videos have uniformly been considered protected from disclosure as part of the officer’s personnel file. There is no criteria outlined in the bill for an agency to evaluate in its decision whether to release the video. It appears the legislature is leaving that criteria in the hands of the law enforcement agencies.
The bill is very broad in scope, and does not limit video disclosure to just police use of force matters. It applies to video recordings of any police incident – traffic stops, drug stings, robberies, domestic disputes, public intoxication, etc. Theoretically, videos of these incidents would be subject to release as well.
Stay tuned as we see how this bill is handled in the North Carolina Senate.