Bill in NC senate proposes new process for releasing law enforcement video

Updated: Apr. 9, 2021 at 4:12 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - Three senate lawmakers are seeking to rewrite North Carolina’s 2015 law regarding law enforcement dashcam or bodycam video being released to the public or media organizations.

Senate Bill 510, sponsored by Sen. Ben Clark (D-Hoke), Sen. Kirk deViere (D-Cumberland) and Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed (D-Mecklenberg) requires law enforcement agencies to release the video captured on body-worn camera or dashboard camera after 48 hours have passed since an incident was recorded, unless a court orders the release should be restricted for a specific amount of time. The law enforcement agency must file an action in Superior Court requesting release of the video to be restricted.

Under the current law, recordings made by law enforcement agencies are not public record, and anyone seen or heard on bodycam or dashcam video can request the custodial law enforcement agency to release it. If the agency refuses, the person requesting the video must go to Superior Court, where a judge can order the law enforcement agency to hand over the video if it finds “that the law enforcement agency abused its discretion in denying the request for disclosure”. If a member of the media or the general public petitions for the video, the case immediately goes to Superior Court. The law does not allow law enforcement agencies to disclose the video to these parties without a court order.

“If you recall, when we passed that bill a couple bienniums ago, there was no statute that dealt with that particular instance,” said Sen. Clark. “So really, it was uncertain as to the rights of the individual with regards to being able to view the dashcam-type video. Even at that time many of us, especially the democrats, did not like that approach. but we did, especially on the senate side, want to have a system in place, in statute, that gives people the right to obtain that video. Now what I want to do is essentially flip the script if you will, and instead of placing the burden on the individual, place the burden on the police department, should they decide that the webcam video should not be released.”

Under SB510, a judge may review the recording to determine whether to restrict the release, or release all or a portion of the video. There are several standards the judge must weigh, including:

(1) Release is necessary to advance a compelling public interest.

(2) The recording contains information that is otherwise confidential or exempt from disclosure or release under State or federal law.

(3) The person requesting release is seeking to obtain evidence to determine legal issues in a current or potential court proceeding.

(4) Release would reveal information regarding a person that is of a highly sensitive personal nature.

(5) Release may harm the reputation or jeopardize the safety of a person. General Assembly Of North Carolina Session 2021 DRS15220-ND-69 Page 3 1

(6) Release would create a serious threat to the fair, impartial, and orderly administration of justice.

(7) Confidentiality is necessary to protect either an active or inactive internal or criminal investigation or potential internal or criminal investigation.

(8) There is good cause shown to release all portions of a recording.

Sen. Clark is the only one of the three sponsors of SB510 who was in the senate when the 2015 legislation passed by a large margin and was signed into law by then-Gov. Pat McCrory. Sen. Clark admits the new bill filed by three democrats is a long shot to pass in the republican-controlled General Assembly. However, he is optimistic that the idea behind the legislation could possibly be included in a larger judicial reform bill proposed during this current session.

“I am quite well aware that Senator (Danny Lee) Britt (R-Columbus, Robeson), who does a lot of the judicial stuff across the aisle, is going to be pushing some sort of judicial reform bill,” said Sen. Clark. So what i would like to do is say ‘Hey, Senator Britt, how about incorporating this into what you’re trying to do with judicial reform?’ That’s how we generally approach that, is to try to get morsels of what we’ve thrown out on the table included in a larger omnibus bill around a certain topic.”

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