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Department of Cultural Resources issues retention policy on body-worn videos

The Department of Cultural Resources issued a new records retention policy Thursday for municipal law enforcement agencies that is intended to cover body-worn video recordings. Videos that are not part of an investigative file, citizen complaint or internal affairs investigation should be destroyed after 30 days. 

As many police departments across the state are beginning to implement the use of body-worn video cameras to improve transparency and gather evidence, a question has arisen about how long the videos should be maintained. Thursday the Department of Cultural Resources issued a new retention policy for municipal governments that instructs police departments to purge the videos after 30 days unless they become part of a criminal investigation file, a citizen complaint file or an internal affairs investigation. 

Cultural Resources new retention policy is not limited to mobile videos collected by body cameras. It includes fixed recordings as well. It's in addition to the existing policy covering dash-cameras and other videos collected by cameras mounted on patrol vehicles. 

The policy does answer the question raised by an ongoing dispute in Asheville where the police department has been collecting video from public rallies, including political rallies, for decades without ever disposing of them. The police department has alternately said the videos were taken for training purposes and for criminal intelligence gathering purposes. Criminal intelligence records are exempted from disclosure under the public records law. The policy does not specifically permit retaining videos collected as part of criminal intelligence gathering for longer than 30 days, meaning Asheville's decades old videos would need to be destroyed. 

Like the City of Greensboro, the Department of Cultural Resources has cited the personnel statute as potentially relevant to the retention of the videos. Release of information from a personnel file is limited and has been used as a jusitification by the City of Greensboro to withhold videos of officer-involved shootings. The use of personnel laws to exempt body-worn videos from public records laws is a unique interpretation of the purpose of the videos to several North Carolina local governments, such as Greensboro, which states that they are personnel records since they might potentially be reviewed for disciplinary purposes. A public record does not become exempt from disclosure under the law simply because it might be used in conjunction with an investigation, criminal or otherwise. 

The policy initially applies only to municipal law enforcement, although Cultural Resources is working on a similar policy for sheriff's offices. 

Read a short statement about the policy on the G.S. 132 Files blog here

Jonathan Jones,
2/24/2015 9:25 AM