NC among states to limit access to police videos – USA TODAY
Amid aÂ growing outcry over police shootings of black men, manyÂ states are taking actions to restrict public access to police video shot by dashboard and body cameras.
In North Carolina âÂ where Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot last week by Charlotte policeÂ âÂ a new law takes effect Saturday that some experts say will make it more difficult for the public to see video shot by police.
It’s one of about two dozenÂ states and the District of Columbia that have introduced or passed legislation in the past two years that impact public records laws, an attorney for the ReportersÂ Committee for Freedom of the Press said Sunday.
“The vast majority of those laws have restricted public access to policeÂ video, either by adding additional exemptions in state public records laws or they’ve created a presumption that the videos are not public records at all, except in certain circumstances,” said Adam Marshall, an attorney for the Reporters Committee, which tracks police department policies on releasingÂ videos and state legislation on the issue.
In New Hampshire, a law signed in JuneÂ says body camera video is a public record only under certain circumstances, such asÂ if it showsÂ use of force by an officer, the firing of a gun or “an encounter that results in an arrest for a felony-level offense.”
Minnesota recently exemptedÂ most body camera video from being releasedÂ butÂ will make public footage if an officer’s use of force “results in substantial bodily harm,” according to the Reporters Committee.
Proponents say such restrictionsÂ are needed to protect the integrity of ongoing investigations, and toÂ balanceÂ the privacy rights of crime victims, witnesses and police officers with the public’s right to know. They note that questions about access to police video footage involves more than police shootings, but also includes police responses to domestic disputes and complaints about sexual assault or cases involving children.
“If you are releasing information in real time, as some would assert needs to be done, you may be tainting the account of people who have witnessed an event,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union.
After Tuesday’s shooting of Scott by Charlotte police,Â “release the tapes” became a rallying cry among protesters all week.Â Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney, who initially had refused to release the videos,Â made public Saturday night some of the dashcam and bodycam footage from the incident that shows officers yelling “drop the gun.” But the video also provides “no definitive, visual evidence that he had a gun in his hand,” Putney said.
PoliceÂ have saidÂ they recovered a loaded gun with Scott’s DNA and fingerprints and that Scott was wearing an ankle holster.
North Carolina’s new law, when it takes effect, declares that police bodycam videos are not public recordÂ and largely lets the heads of individual law enforcement agencies decide whether to disclose footage, Marshall said.
If access to the policeÂ video is denied, the new law says a lawsuit would be required, which is expensive and can take a long time, he said.Â Â “You have situations like you do in Charlotte where getting the video out there and help the public understand what happened is a timely fashion is important,” Marshall said.
Most state open records laws already include provisions that allow withholding sensitive information involving personal privacy or law enforcement investigations, Marshall noted.
Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriff’s Association, said the public needs to recognize that video is only one piece of evidence in an investigation of an officer-involved shooting. And many times, because of limitations on the angle of the camera, it may not provide a complete picture.
“A classic example is what happened in Charlotte,” Youngblood said Sunday. The limited video in the Scott case can be interpreted inÂ many ways, he said, depending on the viewer’s perspective.
“We have to be very careful we donât start releasing evidence in theÂ middle of investigations, because people can then jump to conclusions,” he said.