Former Police Chief Pushes Through Legislation To Keep Body Cam Footage Out Of The Public's Hands

from the putting-the-'no'-back-in-'North-Carolina' dept

Whatever accountability and transparency could be achieved with the deployment of police body cameras often seems to be undercut by legislative activity. Minnesota legislators, prompted by law enforcement, tried to cut the public out of the process. So did a sheriff-turned-legislator in Michigan. The LAPD preemptively declared its body cam footage would not be considered “public records,” which means legislators will have to act to roll back the PD’s policy. And in Illinois, a law enforcement agency decided to stop using body cameras altogether because accountability is just too much work.

Over in North Carolina, one legislator is sponsoring a bill that would exempt body cam footage from public records laws. His concern, of course, is the privacy of all involved.

Sponsor Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, said the measure strikes a balance between police accountability and the rights of private citizens, noting that cameras see what officers see, including people in their homes at some of their most difficult moments, such as a domestic violence incident.

There are other interests at play as well.

“There are private things that could be very embarrassing to people, could be hurtful to people, and that doesn’t need to be public,” said Faircloth, a former police chief.

Misconduct is often embarrassing, but it will be shielded from disclosure along with actual privacy issues. The bill places severe restrictions on who can have access to police video and recordings, as well as how they can access these.

Under the bill, anyone captured in police video or audio could request to see it but would not be allowed to have a copy. No copies of police video could be released to the public unless ordered by a judge.

As bad as this bill is (and it’s a signature away from becoming law), it’s — incredibly — better than the current status quo. As it stands now, police recordings are considered personnel records, which are almost impossible to obtain. So when former police chief Faircloth says his bill will “increase transparency,” he isn’t lying. But he’s also only making the most incremental forward motion — the kind that doesn’t do much to increase accountability and gives law enforcement nearly as many opportunities to withhold recordings completely.

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Comments on “Former Police Chief Pushes Through Legislation To Keep Body Cam Footage Out Of The Public's Hands”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Yeah, I bet

“There are private things that could be very embarrassing to people, could be hurtful to people, and that doesn’t need to be public,” said Faircloth, a former police chief.

Given police are so anti-anything capable of recording their actions, from body-cams to cams held by members of the public, I’m sure there are things that they’d rather not have recorded, though I imagine it’s not for ’embarrassing’ or ‘hurtful’ reasons, unless the ‘hurt’ is regarding their ability to retain their jobs. As for the idea that they’re just so very concerned about the privacy rights of the public, yeah, that’s a joke without a punchline given they only seem to care about the public’s privacy when it stands to benefit them.

Of course no discussion on body-cams would be complete without pointing out, yet again, that this is entirely a self-inflicted injury on the part of the police. If police had cared to hold their own accountable in the past there wouldn’t be such a push for (theoretically) neutral observers in the form of body-cams, so they have only themselves to blame that people don’t trust them enough to take them at their word, and insist on body-cams to spot when they lie and/or go well beyond acceptable behavior.

Anonymous Coward says:


I would think this site (of all sites) would welcome a new view on how to strike a balance between accountability and open records on the one hand and privacy for those on record on the other. The fact that the use of body cameras would still be the norm + availability for those on the records to review it + the oversight by a judge to decide on whether or not footage can be made public, at least seems an attempt to strike a balance…

I would hope this proposal could become a starting point for discussion, not outright rejection.

Anonymous Coward says:

Be careful what you wish for

I for one don’t want any recording of me interacting with the police remaining for years in some database.

Yes, footage of major felonies and arrests should be saved for review and use in a trial, but if it is just an officer questioning me or asking for ID it shouldn’t be available to be shown on the news.

There is a large potential for misuse. If the police don’t like you they could just release the footage of them talking to you to the evening news or the internet. Even if you are not arrested it could give the impression to friends, family, and co-workers that you are a criminal (otherwise why would the police be questioning you?)

Only major crimes and arrests should be retained. Everything else should be deleted after it has been reviewed within 24-48 hours to avoid using it to embarass people later.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Be careful what you wish for

What makes you think that the police will keep any videos of you private if they want to find you?
Also the more videos of police talking to people there are available to the public, the less notice people will take of them, while searching for more ‘interesting’ interactions. Look at how well all the information collecting by the spy agencies hide the terrorists until after they do something.

Anonymous Coward says:

My initial reaction to this bill was along the lines of most people here, it’s bad legislation that removes accountability.

After further consideration, however, I’m not sure it’s such a terrible idea. It does nothing to protect law enforcement from criminal or administrative review and punishment if they’re accused of misconduct.

It does prevent police footage of people’s most tragic and personal moments from being available for public schadenfreude. The architects of this bill may have the aim of reducing police exposure to public backlash at their behavior, but I really think there is something to the notion that someone wouldn’t want their reaction to a dead child or something equally horrible on you tube.

Anonymous Coward says:

It really doesn't matter

Two Baton Rouge cops murdered Alton Sterling. Their body cameras “fell off”. Both of them.

The problem isn’t body cameras or the footage from them. The problem is that most police officers are violent, lying, sociopathic thugs who will rape, beat, torture and kill BECAUSE THEY CAN.

Until this institution is dismantled — starting with killing all these ridiculous “Blue Lives Matter” bills (hint: cops are expendable, their lives DON’T matter) — the transformation of American citizens into hashtags will continue.

Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: It really doesn't matter

Also because they are encouraged too. A fearful populace is a compliant populace.

I am certain that police are being trained to brutalize and murder people. Solely because it keeps them loyal as well having the effect of keeping the population in line.

Both are essential in a tyranny police state. You need something to keep your enforcers happy with you the “leader” as well as using fear as a way to keep people from revolting

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: It really doesn't matter

They’re not being trained, they’re being allowed to develop a gung-ho attitude in a culture that celebrates violence. As long as they can convince themselves that you are the bad guy and that you deserve what you’re getting (their own brand of justice!) they will wail on you and you can only hope there is a bystander with a camera to record it.

It doesn’t help that due process is being battered in popular culture and in the media, as if procedure itself is the culprit when a crook gets off on a technicality.

This isn’t a cop problem, it’s our problem, and until we can instill respect for due process and the rule of law into our society, good luck with resolving it. When people are taught that violence is a short-cut to a solution, why bother with the hassle of following legal procedures?

Anonymous Coward says:

What about John Crawford, III. Walmart customer who was carrying a toy rifle which he was going to purchase for his son when police shot and killed him for no reason other than another customer calling police saying a man was carrying a gun.

Oh, that’s right, privacy laws will prevent us from releasing that body cam footage because we would violate the privacy rights of John Crawford’s family.


Way to go, Tim Cushing. The police need to have you on their payroll. With police advocates like you, we don’t need no constitution to protect our civil rights.

Personanongrata says:

Starve the Beast and Gain Accountability

Former Police Chief Pushes Through Legislation To Keep Body Cam Footage Out Of The Public’s Hands

US law enforcement agencies (LEA) derive the great majority of their funding from public tax revenue. If LEA does not want to operate in an open and transparent manner the public would (in a perfect world located in a parallel universe) withhold it’s funding until LEA agreed to operate within the parameters (aka the law) established by the communities LEA claims to be protecting and serving.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Starve the Beast and Gain Accountability

Maybe in the past that’s where they got their funding, but these days a good many of them like to pad out the budget via the good old tradition of armed robbery at badge-point, otherwise known as ‘asset forfeiture’.

Running a little low on money after splurging for the renovation of the break room? Go rob a few ‘suspected druggies’, problem solved.

Whatever says:

For me, it’s a very complex problem with few good answers. A big part of the problem here is that it’s easy to focus narrowly on the concept of “checking up on the police” or the old “unblinking eye”, but it’s much harder to deal with when you consider all the people involved and all of the potential privacy issues it raises.

Bodycam footage is intrusive. Police routinely go into private homes and businesses and deal with people at their very worst times. They deal with people who are stressed out, who are freaking out, both victims and criminals alike. They see many people who are not particularly related to their work who may be nearby, and having a full video record available to anyone at any time would most certainly violate the privacy of many.

Keeping it “confidental” is a non-starter. We all know how often confidential information sneaks out, from autopsy photos to arrest records of celebs. Once recorded, it’s only a matter of time until the video gets out.

I don’t have a problem with cameras in a police car, as an example. What is captured on dashcams is generally public view stuff. There are some circumstances where privacy may be an issue (like driving up a private road, or perhaps having the car point in a manner where the camera can see inside a private residence), but those would seem to be rarer issues.

In the rush to monitor police, it seems that trampling on the privacy rights of citizens is not an issue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Coming from one of the biggest advocates of “if you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide”? Really?

So “privacy of citizens” only matters to Whatever because it involves police cams. If it’s just the passwords on their mobile phone, then fuck privacy and the entire citizenry is fair game…

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