Minnesota Legislators, Law Enforcement Trying To Strip The 'Public Accountability' Out Of State's Body Camera Program

from the one-way-surveillance-and-zero-accountability dept

More cities and states are getting behind the idea that outfitting their law enforcement officers with body cameras will result in better policing and more accountability. Unfortunately, many of them then follow this moment of clarity by gutting the “accountability” part of the programs.

Los Angeles law enforcement agencies will only turn over camera footage if it’s part of a criminal or civil suit. Florida legislators are pushing for additional exceptions in the state’s open records laws specifically for body camera footage and specifically at the request of the state’s police union.

Minnesota seems to be taking the same route. The state wants its law enforcement officers to wear cameras but some legislators don’t feel the public should have access to the footage. A bill supported by the state’s law enforcement aims to keep as many recordings out of the public’s hands as possible.

The bill states:

[A]udio and video data captured by a portable video recording system that is not part of an active or inactive criminal investigation must be destroyed within 90 days of the date the data were captured, unless the data subject, or any peace officer identifiable by the data, submits a written request to the law enforcement agency to retain the data for possible use in a future proceeding related to the circumstances under which the data were originally collected. Any law enforcement agency that receives a request to retain data shall retain it for a reasonable time, based upon the likelihood of its future use and the agency’s policies for retention. Peace officers who are identifiable by portable video recording system data shall have unrestricted access to the data while it is retained and must be permitted to make copies.

It seems reasonable… until you realize what it’s allowing law enforcement agencies to do. Anything retained by these agencies will only be accessible to civilians in the recording, and then only by request. Alleged misconduct that is cleared by law enforcement oversight will move affected recordings into the “destroy” pile, which means agencies can start deleting potentially damning footage almost immediately, provided there are no current requests for the recordings.

The bill also exempts recordings from state public records laws by deeming nearly all recordings “nonpublic” by default.

Except for data classified as active criminal investigative data pursuant to subdivision 7, portable video recording system data is private data on individuals or nonpublic data at all times. Notwithstanding subdivision 7, portable video recording system data that are part of an inactive investigation remain classified as provided in this subdivision.

Subdivision 7 pertains to “criminal investigative data” — which is also “nonpublic” and “private.”

On the other hand, peace officers will have unrestricted access to any footage they appear in. This open-ended access is the sort of thing that can lead to tampering and deletion. Any officer should, at best, have controlled access to recordings involving them if the recording system is going to maintain any sort of integrity. Anything else is completely irresponsible.

If the bill goes forward, the body cameras willed be largely robbed of their deterrent effect. By removing the general public from the information flow, the cameras will no longer be tools of police accountability, but rather just another surveillance option for peace officers. The cameras basically become “one way” collections, wholly controlled by the officers who generate the recordings.

Those representing the law enforcement side are defending this bill by presuming to speak for the public they don’t want to be accountable to…

Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, said public access to body camera footage “really serves no public purpose.”

… because it might make things a little tougher for peace officers:

Flaherty and other law enforcement representatives expressed concern about what wide public access would mean — both for exposing citizens’ private lives and, in their minds, spurring more complaints against officers.

“Complaints against officers” is exactly what’s spurring so many states and cities to outfit their cops with cameras. Flaherty conveniently forgets that body camera footage can also exonerate wrongly-accused officers in his haste to portray body cams as somehow intrusive to public officers.

Video works both ways… theoretically. Public access is essential if the camera programs are going to have any chance at reducing complaints and misconduct. Drastically limiting the number of people who can access recordings makes it highly unlikely the goals will be met. The bill creates a cover system for abuse and allows for full narrative control by law enforcement agencies. And this is coming from a state where law enforcement already expects the public to perform its surveillance for it and turn over video recordings captured in private businesses whenever a cop asks for it.

That’s not accountability. That’s nothing more than a bunch of government agencies attempting to dodge their responsibilities to the public they’re supposed to be serving.

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Comments on “Minnesota Legislators, Law Enforcement Trying To Strip The 'Public Accountability' Out Of State's Body Camera Program”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Why is it that cops make it very hard for us to get their video, yet at the same time insist on being able to get our video? It’s been standard practice for cops to seize people’s cellphone video as well as private surveillance video at will, claiming it’s “evidence of a crime” — as in when the only crime committed was police brutality.

Although privacy advocates wull wince at the thought, one of the biggest catchers of criminal police behavior has been the hidden security cameras that are literally everywhere these days

Anonymous Coward says:

peace officers will have unrestricted access to any footage they appear in. This open-ended access is the sort of thing that can lead to tampering and deletion.

Hell, it doesn’t even have to get as far as tampering or deletion. Being able to review the footage at their leisure gives police the chance to fabricate the best story possible to justify whatever actions were taken. They get to craft the best narrative possible, and prepare excuses for every inconsistency.

That One Guy (profile) says:

From bad to worse

Peace officers who are identifiable by portable video recording system data shall have unrestricted access to the data while it is retained and must be permitted to make copies.

While the first half is bad, this part is much worse. With this in play, they’ll be able to ‘legally’ demand people who record them to hand over their cameras/phones so they can make a ‘copy’, and it doesn’t take a genius to know what will happen to the original at that point.

There’s also the problem of getting the camera/phone back, I can see the police taking a good week to get around to ‘copying’ the relevant data, just to make it clear that if you record them, you’re losing your stuff for as long as they can get away with it.

And finally, when they steal- oh I’m sorry ‘borrow for evidence preservation purposes’ someone’s phone, if that phone happens to be encrypted, this would allow them to demand that the owner provide the password to decrypt it, and at that point it’s not will they go browsing through everything on the phone, but how soon.

Padpaw (profile) says:

what’s the point really. 9 times out of ten the judge believes the cop’s word over the video evidence that contradicts his version of what happened.

Will having access to their recorded actions do us any good if the police and courts ignore said evidence and instead only believe what their fellow officers tell them happened.

We need to root out the corruption in this system as a priority. Not try and amend it with little things here and there. As making laws that require the criminal to support rarely work.

Or in this case requiring murdering dirty cops to wear and share their video footage of their crimes. When they have no incentive to do so, as they have proven their oaths and the laws don’t matter to them at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Living next door to MN, this entire process started with:

Promise (Hey, body cameras!),

To arguments that at least had some thoughtful nuance (What about recordings in a private home? You have a point worth considering.),

To the now expected disappointment (Hey, body cameras! But don’t worry LEO’s, you’ll have all the control *wink* *wink*).

Is there no effort at public oversight and trust that people in power won’t try to waste or twist to their advantage?

The Original Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

A different slant on things

While most of the preceding comments have focused on law enforcement’s access to the recordings, and how they may fiddle with them, I have a concern about the public, anyone in “the public” having access to a video of a naked woman who has just been raped, a naked man who is high on drugs, a dismembered corpse, and other things that will haunt the victims of crimes for ever. I would rather not let “the public” have access to those videos.

How do we determine who in “the public” should have access to all the video? As soon as we put someone in charge of deciding that issue, cries will go up that this person is hiding evidence of police misconduct.

This is not an open and shut case, as Perry Mason used to say.

(I am a resident of Minnesota.)

nasch (profile) says:

Re: A different slant on things

How do we determine who in “the public” should have access to all the video?

I agree it shouldn’t all go public, but it also shouldn’t only be available to people in the video. It seems to me the best solution is that anyone can request that video be publicly released, and some group independent of the police – having custody of all the video – determines whether public release is appropriate. If it isn’t, then they can determine if private release to just the requester is appropriate. No system is perfect, but that would be better than the police deciding who gets video.

The Original Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: A different slant on things

Agreed. My concern is that the body that gets to review the video and decide who can view it will be attacked by the losers in the case. If the requester supports the police’s story and aren’t allowed to view the footage, the committee/commission will be called a “bunch of cop haters” (and there are a couple of Techdirt columnists who would probably do that) and if the requester supports the suspect and isn’t allowed to view the video, the committee/commission would be accused of hiding police brutality.

Unfortunately, it’s a lose-lose situation.

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