North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police News Release
New Law Regulating Release of Police Video Effective October 1st
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: Chief Robert Hassell, President, 336.347.2302
Reidsville, NC (September 26, 2016) — On October 1, 2016, the new law regulating release of law enforcement video (S.L. 1926-88; House Bill 972) becomes effective. Below is an explanation of the basic changes from the current law. Fundamentally, the new law removes discretion from law enforcement for release of video; provides to all persons the right to an expeditious impartial decision on release; provides special access to viewing and release of video to those depicted on the video (or their family or representatives); and provides standards for the decision to release or view. The new law clarifies and makes uniform the standards and procedures for release or viewing across all law enforcement agencies in the State.
The current law governing police video contains impediments to release—police video is not currently a “public record” in a meaningful way. There is an exception in the public records law for law enforcement information such as video, which can be used to deny release in the complete discretion of law enforcement. In addition, the personnel privacy law is not discretionary and can prohibit release of video because it contains images of employees (law enforcement officers). The new law eliminates these impediments by removing police video from the public records law (which eliminates the exception for it), and removes video from the personnel privacy law’s restrictions.
Chief Robert Hassell, President of the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, states,
“It is the objective of the association to provide resources and support to its members. As it relates to the body camera video, it was evident through discussions with our members there were differences and inconsistencies within the State of North Carolina on how videos were viewed, whether public or personnel record, and how upon request an individual could view or ascertain a copy of the video. Through diligent efforts of the association’s board members and lobbyist, there were views, concerns, and suggestions that were offered to the lawmakers while the new law was being crafted. At the conclusion, the new law offers the public and law enforcement executives the clarification of public records and personnel privacy laws concerning video. Most importantly, it resolves inconsistencies on how individuals depicted in video will receive a copy of that video.”
With removing constraints on release, the question becomes whether all video should immediately be released and, if not, who makes the decision on release. Law enforcement video includes all encounters with citizens, not just encounters involving use of force. Most people understand that police video raises important privacy concerns and that some scenes and situations should not be immediately available to the public. These include video of rape or other sex crime victim interviews; children; interior and contents of homes and businesses; crime, suicide, or accident scenes of badly injured or dead people; domestic disputes; informants or fearful crime witnesses; bystanders; and others. Law enforcement officers are required to go into private places and interact with citizens in intensely personal and vulnerable situations. Release of video can also affect the rights of accused before trial.
If there is some video that requires careful consideration before release, who should make that decision if not law enforcement? The new law gives that responsibility to a superior court judge through an expedited hearing with criteria to guide the judge’s decision. Special rights are given to a person who is shown on the video (or their family or representatives) who requests to view it or receive a copy. The head of the law enforcement agency (police chief or sheriff) can allow viewing based on the criteria in the new law, and there is an expedited review by a superior court judge to override this initial decision. A person depicted on the video can file a free petition form to have a judge release a copy to the person depicted.
Law enforcement wants video to be released in most cases. Transparency and accountability are fundamental reasons to employ cameras, regardless of the positive or negative reflection on law enforcement. Video of controversial incidents involving use of force can show what really happened, dispel misinformation, and hasten easing of public tensions. Such video is always eventually available anyway as part of criminal or civil legal proceedings and many incidents are recorded by citizens on the scene. Showing video to people who complain of police misconduct leads to resolution of complaints, and avoids conflicting accounts of what happened. Video can identify misconduct by officers who can be disciplined or terminated.
Law enforcement cameras are a new technology not envisioned or addressed properly by existing law. The new law provides uniform and impartial procedures for access to video. Experience with the new law will provide insight into the need for improvement.
Chief Hassell states, “Across the State of North Carolina, Chiefs of Police strive to provide professional police services to the public and continuously transform their agencies to be more transparent and accountable to the public. The NCACP supports the new law and believes it offers a balance of privacy with transparency. More significantly, the new law offers a level of protection for others portrayed in the video, that in many cases, law enforcement is to protect and intercede by being their voice.”