By Paul B. Johnson

Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill on Monday that will preclude police body camera footage from being a public record in North Carolina.

The Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly passed House Bill 972 on June 30 as the 2016 legislative session neared adjournment. The bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, of High Point, would set limits on when and how footage and audio from police body cameras could be released by any law enforcement agency in the state.

During a signing ceremony with law enforcement officers in Raleigh, McCrory said House Bill 972 will promote public trust while respecting the rights of public safety officers.

The law sets up "clear and distinct procedures and standards by which a law enforcement agency may disclose or release a recording from a body-worn or dashboard camera," said the first-term Republican governor.

The legislation establishes rules on when and how police body camera footage can be viewed and heard. The recordings could be accessed only by certain parties with the consent of law enforcement agencies or the courts.

A representative with the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union objected to the new law.

"People who are filmed by police body cameras should not have to spend time and money to go to court in order to see that footage. These barriers are significant, and we expect them to drastically reduce any potential this technology had to make law enforcement more accountable to community members," said Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina.

Activists gathered outside the governor's mansion in Raleigh this past Friday and Saturday to urge McCrory to veto House Bill 972, said one of the organizers of the campaign, Aneisha McMillan of Fayetteville.

The fatal police shootings last week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, highlight the need for police body camera recordings to be available to the public following a confrontation, McMillan told told The High Point Enterprise.

Faircloth, a former High Point police chief, told The Enterprise last week that the bill is a fair compromise between allowing access to police body camera recordings and protecting evidence in law enforcement investigations.

Faircloth attended the signing ceremony of the bill Monday with the governor in Raleigh.

(c)2016 The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.)