How Will North Carolina's New Body Cam Law Work?

In the wake of this week’s shooting of a 43-year old black man in Charlotte, North Carolina by local police, the calls to release police dash cam footage have gone up from the public, area activists, and outside agitators with no vested interest in the well-being of North Carolina.

Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney has refused to release the video to the public, but the family of Keith Scott was allowed to view the video on Thursday.

Putney has stated that they will not release the video at this time, in order to maintain the integrity of the investigation.

For the time being, the decision whether to release body cam or dash cam footage rests with the discretion of law enforcement and the mayor, but on October 1, 2016 a new law in North Carolina will make it much harder for these cases to be tried in the streets before the authorities have had a chance to complete their investigation.

House Bill 972 was endorsed by every major law enforcement organization in the state of North Carolina: The N.C. Fraternal Order of Police, N.C. Police Benevolent Association, and the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys.

An explanation of HB972 reads as follows:

The new law takes the decision-making authority out of the hands of the police and politicians by establishing a clear legal process through the court system for the release of law enforcement video in North Carolina. After October 1, 2016, it will be up to the courts to make decisions regarding the release of law enforcement video.

  • People captured in law enforcement video (or family) can request to see the video from a law enforcement agency. 
  • The law enforcement agency must grant access to the requestor or state a particular reason why access would be denied, i.e. the disclosure would create a serious threat to the fair, impartial, and orderly administration of justice.
  • The agency has three days to respond to the request. If law enforcement doesn’t respond after three days or rejects a request during that time, the person can petition the court to see the video. Access would be granted if the court finds that the law enforcement agency abused its authority in denying the request for disclosure. The court can also consider any standard it deems relevant in determining whether to order the release of all or a portion of the recording. There is no fee for petitioning the court for access to law enforcement footage, and requests are given priority status by the court.
  • Any custodial law enforcement agency may also file a request with the court to release the video.
  • The court can also order the release of the video if:
    • There is good cause shown to release all portions of a recording.
    • Release is necessary to advance a compelling public interest.
    • The person requesting release is seeking to obtain evidence in a current or potential court proceeding.
    • There is good cause shown to release all portions of a recording.

The law requires every law enforcement agency that uses body‑worn cameras or dashboard cameras to adopt a clear policy applicable to the use of those cameras.

At the time of Keith Scott’s shooting, this law was not in effect, so it will be up to Chief Putney as to when the public finally gets to see what happened from the perspective of the police officers on that day.

Arguments can be made (and I’m sure they will be) as to the necessity of this law. Governor Pat McCrory commented in July, at the time of the signing of the bill:

“Technology like dashboard and body cameras can be very helpful, but when used by itself, technology can also mislead and misinform, which also causes other issues and problems within our community,” he said. “What we need to do is walk that fine line.”

McCrory has not been one to shy away from controversial legislation, making some of the bolder moves in state government during his first term as governor.

He also has not made any friends among the ACLU, NAACP, or other alphabet soup groups of liberal agitation.

As Charlotte remains under a state of emergency, with National Guard forces and State Troopers on the ground to assist the local police force, we can only pray for the peace of the city and a return to some level of normalcy, as we wait for the investigation to conclude – through the proper channels, and not the streets.




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