by Sam Hieb
The bill would ban most police camera footage from public viewing by making it available only to police and to defendants in criminal cases. Faircloth’s bill concerns police video, not bystander recordings. But the same principle applies: Seeing is believing — and knowing what actually occurred, not what someone said has occurred.
Faircloth, a retired chief of police, proposes in his bill that body camera video would no longer be shielded from the public as a personnel record. This means an officer does not have to consent before a video depicting his or her actions could be made public. Yet, the bill also classifies the video as “record of police investigations,” meaning individual police departments would decide whether and which videos could be released. Evidence of police conduct would be placed … squarely in the hands of the police.
The bill is especially relevant in Greensboro, which has been one of the first police departments in the nation to equip all patrol officers with cameras. But the footage generally has been unavailable to the public, which defeats the primary purpose of having police cameras in the first place: the building of community trust.
Unfortunately, Faircloth has plenty of company. Among 87 police-camera-related bills in 29 state legislatures, reports The New York Times, 15 would restrict public access to footage.
Look if the N&R is against the bill that’s fine — they have their opinion, I have mine, you have yours. But this is also a very complicated issue —state laws surrounding police personnel files don’t help matters any. Unfortunately the N&R editorial comes across less as an opinion on the merits of the bill than another cheap shot at Faircloth, whom we know the N&R doesn’t like anyway due to his refusal to denounce Sen. Trudy Wade’s bill restructuring the Greensboro City Council in knee-jerk manner.
N&R leaves out a couple of things in the editorial— the paper cites the NYT article reporting the “flurry of bills” in state legislatures relating to police body cameras; read the article and you’ll see the gist is the legal complications surrounding the videos, including the burden on some local police departments when “anyone” can make a public records request for “any and all video shot by a police officer.”
But more importantly, the N&R fails to mention that Faircloth’s bill passed the House by a 115-2 vote. Lot of Democrats in there, including Gboro’s own ultra-liberal Rep. Pricey Harrison. In addition, a Fayetteville defense attorney who represents families of people of killed by law enforcement says the bill “is a huge improvement in leveling the playing field and affording access and transparency for those who have an interest in the unedited particulars of a citizen and police encounter.”
So yeah I’d say John Faircloth has plenty of company alright.