BEYOND THE HEADLINES:
WHY NORTH CAROLINA LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES CANNOT IMMEDIATELY RELEASE DASH AND BODY CAMERA FOOTAGE
Though many are quick to criticize law enforcement agencies for not releasing dash and body camera footage as soon as an event occurs, this criticism is misplaced. These agencies are required to follow North Carolina law: laws put into effect by the North Carolina Legislature- not by individual law enforcement agencies.
While North Carolina recently enacted a new law regarding when a police officer’s body or dashboard camera footage may be viewed, that law does not take effect until October 1.
So what law governs pre-October 1 incidents?
There are currently two main laws that impact the release of police camera footage in North Carolina.
First, N.C.G.S. §132-1.4 controls criminal investigation and intelligence records. The statute states that criminal investigation and intelligence records are not public records; in other words, the public has no general right of access to them. However, law enforcement agencies have discretion to release or withhold them.
Second, N.C.G.S. §160A-168 governs city personnel records. How would footage of an incident be considered a personnel record? If the footage is reviewed to evaluate the employee’s actions, many believe it falls within the parameters of §160A-168. Unlike the criminal investigation statute which makes the release of records optional, this law prohibits the release of personnel records, except as specifically authorized in the statute. Under the statue, even an employee’s ability to see his or her own records is limited. Custodians and others can be criminally sanctioned for unlawfully releasing personnel information.
Much of the content that the media and public wish to see falls within both of these exceptions. As a result, the agency’s ability to release the footage is either severely limited or prohibited.
After October 1, these videos will still not be considered public records. However, the new law also states that they are not to be construed as personnel records As a result, the strict prohibition on their release under §160A-168 will no longer be an issue. For a full description of the new law, click here: https://lincolnderr.com/body-cam-footage-disclosure-new-nc-law/