North Carolina Senators Propose New Body Cam Policies

Two state senators from High Point, N.C., a Democrat and a Republican, have introduced separate bills that would change how police can review body-camera footage and whether officers must wear the tech.

by Paul B. Johnson, The High Point Enterprise / April 19, 2019
(TNS) — The city’s two state legislators have emerged as key players in what promises to become a revived debate about police body cameras at the N.C. General Assembly.

State Reps. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, and Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, have introduced separate bills that would govern the oversight of police body cameras used by law enforcement officers in the state.

Faircloth, a retired High Point police chief, on Tuesday introduced a bill that would amend the current state law on police body cameras to give local governments more flexibility in reviewing footage.

Under the current police body camera law, a city council or county board of commissioners first has to get permission from a Superior Court judge to review the footage. House Bill 791 would eliminate that requirement.

Instead, a city council or county board of commissioners could vote by a simple majority to review the footage at the request of a city manager or county manager, Faircloth told The High Point Enterprise. Faircloth is seeking the change to give cities and counties greater discretion in reviewing a case in their communities.

“They can’t distribute them (the footage) anywhere. They’ve got to keep them within their operation as a review board,” Faircloth said.

Under the police body camera law enacted three years ago, footage isn’t a public record. Footage can be released only with the permission of law enforcement or through a request in the court system.

House Bill 791 also would override any local rules governing police body camera footage that aren’t authorized by the state.

“A municipality or county shall not enact any ordinance or regulation relating to the release of law enforcement agency recordings, and this section preempts any existing county or municipal ordinances or regulations on its subject matter,” according to the legislation.

Faircloth told The Enterprise that he wants to streamline the law “so we won’t have people going off in so many different directions.”

Meanwhile, Brockman and other House Democrats last week filed a bill to require law enforcement officers in North Carolina to wear body cameras and set up a fund to help pay for it.

House Bill 706 would require law enforcement officers to wear and activate a body camera during interactions with the public. A $10 million state fund would be established to help local law enforcement agencies purchase and maintain body cameras.

“Ensuring safe interactions between law enforcement and the communities they serve is crucial for public safety. This bill works to build trust between those groups as it protects citizens by increasing transparency and protects law enforcement from false claims of misconduct,” Brockman said.

Brockman has pushed for required police body cameras since he first became a legislator five years ago, though his legislation hasn’t gained much traction in the Republican-controlled House. Still, he continues to propel his proposal “to keep the conversation going,” he told The Enterprise.

Faircloth said the current law on police body cameras, which leaves local law enforcement with the discretion whether to use them, has worked well.

“There was a lot of consternation from all directions when we first started. But very seldom do we hear any complaints now,” Faircloth said.

Locally, officers of the Greensboro Police Department and deputies with the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office use body cameras. The High Point Police Department doesn’t use body cameras.

High Point Police Chief Ken Shultz said he continues to have concerns about police body cameras because of privacy issues, release of footage and who can view the video and audio. The High Point police do have dash-cams on police cruisers.

Shultz told The Enterprise that the technology on police body cameras still needs to evolve.

“I have seen many technological changes but still hope to see the cameras become more discreet and less noticeable,” the chief said. “I know first-hand how much having a camera recording impacts interaction. In law enforcement we deal with many sensitive situations ranging from victims describing what happened to them to informants and citizens providing suspect information.”

©2019 The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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