New North Carolina body camera law erodes public trust

Kavin Kumaravel, Opinions Editor

In instances of police brutality, the government ought to release videos under public demand. Contrary to this, North Carolina’s House Bill 972 (HB 972), signed into law in July, demands that a court needs to order the release of such videos if the public wants to view them.

North Carolina Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry claims that the goals of HB 972 are “uniformity, clarity, transparency and quickness.” However, this statement itself is contradictory on multiple levels.

Perry’s first claim about “uniformity” is misinformed. HB 972 reduces communication between the public and the police while body cameras increase it.

“[T]he use of body cameras will strengthen community trust, improve accountability and transparency, protect our officers from false complaints and provide valuable evidence for prosecutors,” claims John Mina, police chief from Orlando, Fla.

Clarity is withheld and disorder is promoted if the public is unable to see the an officer’s footage. If police departments don’t release videos, it is futile to convince the public into buying a police officer’s perspective. American trust in the police is at its lowest since 1993 with only 52 percent having confidence in the police, according to a Gallup poll.

If an officer’s testimony fails to correlate to a later released video, there will be immense public outrage.

Percy’s next argument is “transparency”, which is defined as “honest and open: not secretive” (Merriam-Webster). HB 972 is the complete opposite. The government stands on grounds of transparency when the law is designed to cut the public off from sources of information that can quell civil unrest.

The US Department of Justice states, “[A] study found that there was an 88 percent reduction in the number of citizen complaints between the year prior to camera implementation and the year following deployment.”

As seen, people are much less likely to be angered by the police with body camera footage available.

A lack of transparency also violates the public’s right to know about issues that impact their everyday lives, which outweighs the police department’s privacy rights. It is not a matter of national security if we release such videos.

Lastly, “quickness” is Perry’s most illogical justification. The court order lengthens the time taken for a video to be released. Susanna Birdsong of the ACLU of North Carolina claims, “[b]ody cameras …  make law enforcement … more accountable … but this shameful law will make it nearly impossible to achieve those goals.” The court order provides an illusion of a way to access the videos, but in reality it is an almost impassable obstacle.  If quickness truly matters to Perry, police departments would release body and dashboard camera videos to the public immediately.

Certain aspects of HB 972 are undeniably negative, even when looked at neutrally. It is a misguided response to recent challenges to the injustice in the criminal justice system. Ultimately, the law as it currently exists collapses on its own justifications.