North Carolina representative John Faircloth introduced a bill that will get rid of some of the limitations that require a council or board of commissioners to get permission from a Superior Court judge before viewing police body- or dash-cam footage.
“There was a lot of concern about having to go to a Superior Court judge,” said Faircloth, R-High Point, in reaction to the current law in effect in different parts of the state.
The changes proposed in the bill would not dilute the current law’s requirement that local officials cannot make the recordings public or share what was in them without court approval beforehand.
Officials would be required to sign confidentiality agreements in advance. Any person who violates the agreement would be subject to prosecution for a Class One misdemeanor.
“There’s a strong requirement that they not divulge what is on the tape because it might still be in court,” said Faircloth, referring to any possible incident that has been recorded on a police body-cam.
Before running for state office, Faircloth served as High Point’s chief of police for more than 15 years. His career in law enforcement started with the Greensboro Police Department, and he later became executive director of the North Carolina Criminal Justice Standards Commission. He also helped craft the existing state law controlling videos of police interactions with the public, which the new bill would tweak.
Videos captured on police body cameras have played large roles in local controversial interactions between residents and police, recently in the death of Marcus Deon Smith, who died in September after being restrained by Greensboro police officers.
The law surrounding cameras worn by police officers connects the rocky terrain between the personnel rights of police officers, privacy of those appearing in a film sequence and the public’s right to know how laws are being enforced.
Faircloth’s bill also adds citizen review boards to the list of who can view body and dash-cam videos after a confidentiality agreement has been signed. Many cities, such as Greensboro, have review boards that are made up of volunteers appointed by the elected council to look into complaints against a police officer or the entire department.
This would give city and county managers authority to show the recording in a closed session of the board that they represent after each member has signed the confidentiality agreement.
County or municipal boards wishing to make public any of the videos they have seen would need to get permission from a Superior Court judge before doing so.
Faircloth’s proposal has already gained support from Democratic state representatives Pricey Harrison of Greensboro and Kelly Alexander Jr. of Charlotte. Other sponsors include Republican representatives Stephen Ross of Burlington and Allen McNeill of Asheboro.
Harrison said she signed the bill as a sponsor because she finds it to be a significant improvement over the laws in effect.
“It’s not everything I would like in a body-cam bill, but it expands their ability to see,” said Harrison, referring to local officials. “It’s not ideal, but it’s better than the status quo.” She said from her perspective, the ideal bill would allow for more public disclosure.
“I recognize that they have to walk a fine line between privacy considerations and the public record,” said Harrison. “I lean more toward letting the public see.”