After last Tuesday’s shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by police in Charlotte, N.C., “release the tapes” became a rallying cry among protesters all week. While Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney at first refused to release dashboard and body camera videos, he made some of the footage public on Saturday night.
However, this may be the last time police footage is made public in North Carolina.
While police shootings continue to make front page news, North Carolina legislators seek to limit the public’s access to police video recordings.
A new law going into effect on Oct. 1 excludes police body and dashboard cameras from the public record. The law allows only people involved in the case to review it–at police discretion. For those not involved in the case, including media, protesters, and activist groups, viewing the footage will require a court order.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the controversial bill into law in July.
The law is controversial, to say the least. As police shootings take center stage in the media, and as Black Lives Matter and other activist groups continue to stage protests across the country, limiting access to police footage upsets victims and activists alike.
“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,” Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a press release. “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.”
However, McCrory backs the bill and believes it will help law enforcement and keep the peace in communities.
“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,” McCrory told The News and Observer. “What we need to do is walk that fine line.”
Proponents of the bill argue that the law protects the integrity of ongoing investigations and balances the privacy rights of crime victims, witnesses, and police officers with the public’s right to know.
North Carolina isn’t the only state to restrict access to police body camera or dashboard videos.
In June, New Hampshire signed into law new restrictions that limit when a body camera video is considered public record. The law says it’s only public record if it shows use of force by an officer, the firing of a gun, or “an encounter that results in an arrest for a felony-level offense.”
Minnesota also recently exempted most body camera video from being released but will make footage public if an officer’s use of force “results in substantial bodily harm.”
Though more and more states are adopting limits on releasing police video footage, many, including Karen Anderson, executive director of the ACLU’s North Carolina chapter, remain concerned that these laws could undermine the public’s trust in their local police force–a large risk given the delicate nature of police relations in many cities and states.