Faircloth attempts to bury police body cam footage

Giving police chiefs sole discretion on what gets released:

Meanwhile, a state House bill filed by a High Point Republican, John Faircloth, would make police footage less available, and would give power to decide whether to release the footage to a police chief or sheriff. This is so wrongheaded, it’s hard to know where to begin.

It presumes that an entity that supposedly is accountable to the public should be accountable only to itself. It presumes that a chief will place the public interest over the interests of the department — or of the chief. It presumes every chief — hence, now and forevermore — will be beyond reproach. And it presumes that the chief’s say is the final word on law enforcement. It isn’t. That belongs to the council and, by extension, to the people.

Not only is this just one more in a series of moves by the NC GOP to remove power from municipal governments, it's also a slap in the face to citizens. You don't need to know what happened. The bottom line: Police chiefs and Sheriffs are directly responsible for the behavior of their officers, and misbehavior on the part of the latter could end the careers of the former. In other words, glaring conflict of interest. But this bill does more than that, it (attempts to) radically alter NC's open records laws:

(b) Public Record and Personnel Record Classification. – Recordings are not public records as defined by G.S. 132‑1. If an issue is raised as to whether an individual recording is a personnel record, the head law enforcement officer of the law enforcement agency that has custody of the recording shall make that determination. If a recording is determined by the head law enforcement officer to be a personnel record, the recording is subject to the provisions of Chapter 126 of the General Statutes, Part 4 of Article 7 of Chapter 160A of the General Statutes, or Part 4 of Article 5 of Chapter 153A of the General Statutes.

Bolding mine. Here is the text of G.S. 132-1:

§ 132-1. "Public records" defined.

(a) "Public record" or "public records" shall mean all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data-processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions. Agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions shall mean and include every public office, public officer or official (State or local, elected or appointed), institution, board, commission, bureau, council, department, authority or other unit of government of the State or of any county, unit, special district or other political subdivision of government.

(b) The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law. As used herein, "minimal cost" shall mean the actual cost of reproducing the public record or public information. (1935, c. 265, s. 1; 1975, c. 787, s. 1; 1995, c. 388, s. 1.)

Again, bolding mine. It is clearly evident that video recordings *were* contemplated and included in the definition of public records, even if it doesn't specifically mention "digital" recordings. Making Faircloth's sweeping classification incorrect. And since he doesn't propose to amend the Statute referenced, this bill (if passed in its current form) would be in conflict with G.S. 132-1.

Tags: