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Many US States Are Passing Laws To Keep Body Cam Footage Private

It's a highly debated point from sea to shining sea — how much access should the public have to police body camera footage?
Posted at 11:41 AM, Dec 19, 2016

Across the U.S., there has been a wave of state laws concerning police body cam footage with several states passing laws in the last two years restricting public access to that footage. 

North Carolina, for example, passed a law this summer that blocks the release of law enforcement recordings from body cameras or dashboard cameras with limited exceptions. 

The law took effect less than a week after Charlotte police released footage showing the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Scott's death and the video that followed sparked protests around the city. 

South Carolina, where Walter Scott was shot and killed, passed a similar law in June. It was celebrated by some because it requires all officers to wear body cameras, but it also restricts that footage from the public. 

SEE MORE: The DOJ Will Now Collect Police Use-Of-Force Data — And Make It Public

Texas specifically bars any footage from being released if it captures a deadly use-of-force incident or is related to an investigation of an officer. Not only that, but Texas charges a fee of $10 to whoever requests the recording plus a $1 fee for every minute of footage that has not been previously released. 

In other states like California lawmakers have tried to reform police body camera laws — just to ultimately watch several bills die before making it to the governor's desk. Currently in Los Angeles, San Diego and Oakland, departments restrict all public access to the footage outside of a courtroom or police review panels. 

With such a rapid expansion of body camera use across the country, state lawmakers in many cases are having trouble keeping up. These states haven't introduced any legislation in regard to access to police body camera footage — despite officers in several of these states using the technology. 

The National Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest police union, has called body cameras a "useful tool," saying in most cases the footage exonerates officers from bogus charges. But the FOP has also been skeptical about allowing the public to have access to body camera footage, claiming it can taint an investigation and public opinion.

Meanwhile, many activists and journalists alike have pushed for that transparency, pointing to cases like Walter Scott and Laquan McDonald where released video footage of the incident was a large contributing factor in charges being filed against the officers involved.