During its Tuesday meeting (which took place after press time), the Raleigh City Council was expected to approve matching a $600,000 federal grant that would allow the city to move forward with its goal of purchasing six hundred police body cameras.
But officials acknowledge that the grant represents the first of many steps that it will take to get body cameras on the streetsand even then, thanks to Jones Street interference, those cameras might not do the job activists were hoping they would. The next step, according to talking points drafted by the city manager’s office, is a “test phase,” in which three vendors will provide twenty body cameras each to the Raleigh Police Department. Those devices would be used in the field for thirty days, after which the city would award a contract.
Durham is also set to revisit body cams. Following a months-long debate earlier this year over when footage should be released, the city council put the question on hold until the new police chief could take over. With C.J. Davis now in charge, the council is ready to consider purchasing body cameras. But it will run into the same roadblock as Raleigh.
Neither city can do anything to repeal a new state law that blocks the release of body-cam footage without a court order and gives the police near-total discretion over whether even the people who appear on the tape can view it. That, says Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the state ACLU, undermines the trust these body cams were supposed to foster between cops and their communities.
“When you think about transparency and accountability goals that body cameras are supposed to represent in our communities, HB 972 really strikes the wrong chord,” she says. “What’s the point of body cameras then?” If the public can’t see what the cameras record, she adds, “only one side of that equation is going to actually have access,” which means the cameras aren’t “really serving the purpose they were meant to serve.”