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.