WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Following the events in Elizabeth City, many are asking questions about the law surrounding the release of body camera footage.
In 2016, North Carolina lawmakers passed legislation that requires a court order to release video from body cameras or dash cameras. Even law enforcement agencies and district attorneys have to petition a superior court judge to release the video.
The judge considers several standards before making a decision, including if the “release is necessary to advance a compelling public interest” and if “confidentiality is necessary to protect either an active or inactive internal or a criminal investigation or potential internal or criminal investigation.”
New Hanover and Pender County District Attorney Ben David says he understands that people want answers as quickly as possible, but the justice system doesn’t move as quickly as some would hope.
“As a husband and a father, I understand that anyone who has lost a loved one would want answers as soon as they could, and obviously what is on a videotape is highly relevant,” David said. “Of course everyone wants this information out there, but again I urge the community to remember that the press moves much quicker than the wheels of justice.”
David says the integrity of due process must be upheld, and that’s why this law is in place.
“You have to be deliberate to protect the integrity of the process because if anyone were ever criminally charged, whether they are a law enforcement officer or a member of the public who is getting charged by a law enforcement officer, that day in court needs to come with a jury that has not already formed an opinion about guilt or innocence based on little snippets that may or may not be admissible in a courtroom,” David said.
According to David, another important piece of the puzzle is maintaining public trust and transparency, which is where the disclosure of the recordings is permitted. Be mindful, disclosure is different than release.
If a written request is received, a district attorney or law enforcement agency can show the recording to the person who is in the video, or in the case of death, a representative like a family member or an attorney.
“That family is not allowed to get a copy of it or make a recording themselves, for instance on a cell phone. The statute specifically prohibits that so the DA or the sheriff, as the case may be, would not be permitted to give a recording to even a victim’s family,” David said.
Visit here to view the entire piece of legislation on Law Enforcement Agency Recordings.
There is a bill in the North Carolina Senate that would require police footage to be released within 48 hours following an incident.