Last month, Charlotte, N.C., police shot an African-American man and sat on the footage from body and dashboard cameras, refusing to release it until protesters’ demands that the footage be shared turned violent. Had the shooting occurred 11 days later, recordings of it would not have been public record under a new state law, making it harder to force police to share the footage, reports Stateline. The law, which went into effect Oct. 1, requires media outlets and others who want to see body camera footage get a court order. It is among several new policies across the U.S. that restrict access to body camera footage, as cities and states grapple with storing hours of footage and competing demands on how accessible it should be.
Over the last two years, and without much regulation, police departments have hurried to strap body cameras to officers, both to address demands for transparency and to protect police from accusations of wrongdoing. Once the cameras started rolling, many departments were left not knowing when or how they could show the footage to the public. At least 21 states and dozens of municipalities have instituted policies that range from treating body camera footage like other public records to imposing outright bans on releasing footage. More could be on the way to locking down the footage. Figuring out how to share what the cameras capture is a difficult balance, said Dave McClure of the Urban Institute. “You want to be transparent with the footage, and let the public see it because they need to know what police officers are doing,” he said. “But it also contains information that is very sensitive and private.” Many police departments use body cameras, though some have abandoned them because they say storing footage is expensive and laws requiring departments to retain footage for long periods are cost prohibitive.