This story first published online at NC Policy Watch

Democratic legislators are pressing for passage of bills requiring footage from police body cameras to be released 48 hours after the recording unless a judge approves a delay.

In a news conference Tuesday, sponsors of Senate Bill 510 and its companion, House Bill 698, said the proposal would improve transparency.

A 2016 law requires a judge to allow the public release of police body camera. The 2016 bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, but Democrats who spoke Tuesday said the law enforcement shooting last week in Elizabeth City showed its inadequacies.

“Accountability requires transparency, and the law as currently written delays that transparency,” said Senator Mujtaba Mohammed, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.

Instead of requiring a court petition to get the footage released, the bills would require release 48 hours after footage was recorded if someone requests it. If a law enforcement agency doesn’t want to release the recording, they would have to go before a judge and say why the video should not be disclosed.

The obstacles to the public release of footage are highlighted by the April 21 shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. by Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office deputies. Brown was shot and killed as deputies were attempting to serve warrants.

State and local officials including Governor Roy Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, the Elizabeth City Council, and civil rights groups have called for the video recordings to be released. Protesters in Elizabeth City have called for the release of the footage as well.

The 2016 law allows family members to view footage without a court order. Brown’s family members and one of their lawyers said Monday they were shown only a 20-second clip from one camera, but more deputies were on the scene.  

“To think that it’s okay to show a grieving family 20 seconds of heavily redacted body cam footage after their loved one has been killed by government officials is just plain wrong,” said Representative Amos Quick III, a Guilford County Democrat.

The law has resulted in “a grieving family and a state with more questions than answers as this family prepares to bury the remains of a loved one, and a promise of transparency remains unfulfilled,” he said.

Senator Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, said the changes would establish certainty about releasing body cam footage, build trust between law enforcement agencies and the public, and protect law enforcement officers from unfounded accusations.

Chantal Stevens, ACLU North Carolina executive director, said the burden should be on law enforcement to show why footage shouldn’t be public. 

The state’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, which Cooper created last year, recommended that footage be released after 45 days.

SB 510 was assigned to the Senate Rules Committee, a holding tank for many bills that don’t have a chance at passage.

Representative James Gailliard, a Nash County Democrat, said that as legislators have begun to file bills based on the task force recommendations, “they have pretty much been placed in the trash can.”

“In order to fix this problem, no one party has all the answers,” he said.