North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper says body camera law needs fixing

Thursday, July 14, 2016
Body cam bill
Critics rip the new bill that restricts access to law enforcement body and dash cam video.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- There is new fallout over the "Body Cam" bill.

The legislation, signed into law Monday by Gov. Pat McCrory, blocks public access to police body cam and dash cam video without a court order.

RELATED: New law makes police cam footage off limits to public

"My goal is to protect those who protect us," McCrory said.

The governor said the new law promotes transparency while protecting law enforcement. His critics said the law keeps the community in the dark.

"They're setting it up so the police have all the advantages. It's not going to do anything to create any type of transparency or accountability, and it definitely won't open up lines of communication or trust between the police and the community," said Akiba Byrd, member of PACT Raleigh.

Byrd has been lobbying the City of Raleigh to make footage public since the controversial death of Akiel Denkins, shot and killed by police after a chase in February.


Activist Akiba Byrd discusses body cams and what actions residents need to take.

But Byrd worries that will be nearly impossible now.

He stood with Denkins' mother, Rolanda Byrd, no relation, last week as she pleaded with council members for change.

"If there had been cameras we would have known exactly what happened," she said.

Roy Cooper

Gubernatorial candidate and NC Attorney General Roy Cooper told ABC11 the law is "too restrictive and goes too far in preventing access by the public. The law should be improved to provide for more openness when the legislature comes back into session."

Jamal Little, Cooper's campaign spokesman said the attorney general has been a "strong supporter of body cameras for law enforcement officers."

"The attorney general did not give that input prior to that bill being developed that I know of," McCrory fired back Tuesday. "But the bill is a common sense approach and balance between respecting the rights of our police officers while also balancing the need for the public needs to know."

The law allows a person shown in a video to ask police to see it but not copy it. The department can deny such requests, citing concerns about safety, reputation or an ongoing investigation. Then it would be up to a judge.

"At a time when people across the country are calling for greater transparency and accountability from law enforcement agencies and officers, Governor McCrory's bill to keep police body camera footage hidden from the public moves us in the wrong direction," said NC Democratic Party Chair Patsy Keever.

"We're not saying that you should put a blanket on anything, but if there is a civilian that has an encounter with the police and they want access to their footage and they want to release it, underneath those circumstances that's what we're saying should happen," said Akiba Byrd.

The new law goes into effect Oct. 1.

On Wednesday, the Department of Public Safety responded to concerns about the new law, releasing a statement to help clear up what it called misconceptions about House Bill 972.

From Department of Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry:

"Contrary to what some reports claim, there was not a clear law on this subject for law enforcement prior to now. The new law (HB972) actually provides a more concise method for individuals to request access and copies of law enforcement camera footage. Previously, North Carolina law enforcement agencies handled requests a variety of ways with no standardization. Many deferred to the local district attorney, which often led to the release being delayed until court proceedings had been completed months and even years later. Some others stated that the footage was part of the officer's personnel record and therefore confidential.

This law strikes a necessary balance between maintaining the confidentiality of law enforcement recordings when necessary to protect an ongoing criminal or internal investigation and the need to provide for an expedited and simplified process for disclosure.

This law will allow any person whose image or voice is captured in the recording, or his or her personal representative, to submit a written request for disclosure. Unless the agency can demonstrate a legitimate reason not to disclose the recording, it must be disclosed 'as promptly as possible.'

If a law enforcement agency fails to disclose the recording within 3 business days of the request, the requestor is entitled to an "expedited" hearing in Superior Court.

Finally, although law enforcement recordings are not public record, this law creates an expedited hearing process wherein any interested person may request the recording be released if necessary to advance a compelling public interest or if the court otherwise determines that "good cause" exists.

Therefore, this law advances uniformity, clarity, transparency and timeliness where previously none of these were well defined in state statute."

Related story: Durham police: Body cameras come with pros, cons and a cost

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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