Another Politician Attempts To Build A Wall Between The Public And The Police Who Serve Them

from the cops-need-to-have-rules-all-their-own dept

Body camera footage is a great tool for law enforcement accountability. But all the potential good can all be undone by ensuring the public has no access to the recordings. If recordings become just another internal “document,” nothing has been gained by the addition of body-worn cameras.

That outcome is perfectly fine with some legislators, like Michigan Senator Rick Jones.

A House bill that would exempt police body camera video from being released to the public under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act is raising red flags among some attorneys and civil libertarians.

The proposal by Sen. Rick Jones would amend Michigan’s 1976 Freedom of Information Act by keeping police body camera audio and video shielded from public disclosure.

Of course, Rick Jones — a former sheriff with 31 years in law enforcement — sees nothing wrong with preventing the public from keeping an eye on their public servants. This isn’t being done to shield officers from accountability, according to Jones. No, this is being done to keep cops from being mocked by infamous cop-basher, the Internet.

“This is a first step and it will be tweaked,” he said. “All of the police I have talked with believe that there are many times that private moments are filmed and it’s not the sort of thing you want somebody to FOIA and then put on the Internet for entertainment, for people to laugh at.”

Jeezus. Got some very sensitive individuals hiding behind badges, bulletproof vests and FOIA exemptions. I think most would rather be laughed at than reviled. If the worst thing that happens to Michigan cops is a few embarrassing moments (and a host of just-as-embarrassing comments below them) being uploaded to YouTube, they should be grateful. It’s far better than having footage of misconduct or excessive force circulating the ‘net.

Even the senator’s ostensible opponent — the Michigan ACLU — agrees that some footage should be exempt from public records requests.

“If the police are sitting in their squad car talking to one another about their personal matters – that doesn’t need to be on YouTube,” [ACLU’s Miriam] Aukerman said. “If police go to someone’s home and tell them your child has died or your child’s been in an accident, that doesn’t need to be out in the public.”

Jones says the wording will be “tweaked,” but it’s unclear how much of it. So far, he’s only talked to police officials and officers about their perspective. Until that changes, nothing in his amendment will either. As it stands now, the untweaked version grants a blanket exception to all body camera footage without exception. The following would be added to the list of items Michigan citizens can’t obtain via FOIA requests:


An earlier bill introduced by a Michigan representative in the House asked for a much slimmer exemption — footage recorded in private homes. Jones wants it all exempt. Supposedly, he’ll be meeting with the ACLU and other interested parties to discuss changes to the wording.

We’ll see how much he’s willing to budge, considering there’s only room on his side for concessions. I’m guessing it won’t be much. Jones didn’t get named “Legislator of the Year” by the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police for nothing. He was the one who safely shepherded the state’s asset forfeiture “reform” bill through the legislature — one so badly-neutered by law enforcement meddling that the Michigan Association of Police Officers actually endorsed the final version.

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Another Politician Attempts To Build A Wall Between The Public And The Police Who Serve Them”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

At a minimum, the following footage should be FOIA worthy

1. Any footage taken while a weapon, cuffs, baton, taser or similar item is out of its holster. Any footage leading up to such an event.

2. Any footage leading up to or containing an arrest, detainment, or similar. Any footage in which a member of the police or public is injured or could be reasonably inferred to have sustained injury.

3. Any outdoor footage when police sirens or lights are active.

4. Any footage showing the lead up and execution of a search warrant with a few exceptions (e.g., faces and names of all personas reasonably beloved to be minor are redacted/blurred)

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

How about you tweak it and then try again.
Passing bad laws just to have tried to fix a “problem” is of no benefit. They will sit in committee and waste time getting around to the tweaks, while collecting endorsements & contributions so long as it doesn’t get meaningfully changed.

Protecting cops from being mocked on the internet is more important than allowing access to what could be criminal acts by those with badges. Perhaps the Senator would like to explain how embarrassment rates higher than exposing wrong-doing.

I don’t think all cops are bad, but we can no longer trust the departments, internal affairs, review boards, courts, or arbitration to hold them accountable. Video makes it much harder for all of those image protectors to pretend it wasn’t that bad or misconduct. We have seen how citizens recording have provided videos that totally destroyed the narrative being spun, video is needed and denying the public access shows a fear of being accountable.

Cops having private conversations on the clock should be able to be requested, as embarrassing as it might be. While you might capture someone discussing troubles at home, that might provide insight into the response to a DV complaint attended to later where the officer was less than professional. These recordings are not done secretly, so it is up to the officers to act professionally not demand laws be passed to protect them from butthurt.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

They do exist and they find themselves in untenable positions where they get no backup or are directly attacked by their “brothers in blue”.

While we all want them to speak up, look at the system that puts unfit cops back in place. It is hard to speak up when the whole system doesn’t give a shit and will punish you for rocking the boat.

If you want cops to speak up empower someone to hear the complaints and actually fire bad cops without the unions or arbitration able to override that decision. It is hard to change a system that punishes the whistleblower. See also – US Government.

Raging Alcoholic (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

To bad they could not be charged with conspiracy or something. In Portland Oregon the police union is so strong two off duty cops can go to a strip club, get into a beef with someone, and take him outside and kick his ass. Even when it gets in the paper no one did shit.

It is good to be a cop. You earn about 3 times what the average citizen does and you can do anything to anyone that you want.

The other thing Portland cops like to do is beat up people with mental health issues. Finally it got bad enough the FBI investigated. The FBI says “yeah, that is too much” but did nothing.

These guys are thugs. There is no way the government is going to let us know what they are doing.

383bigblock (profile) says:

We need balance in this

I don’t agree with allowing cops to hide behind this legislation to avert accountability. However, I do believe the video and audio should be released but freely to those who are directly involved,i.e., family, witnesses and those people whose name ends up on the police report or who could get a subpoena to appear in court. For example, my elderly mother-in-law required the police to do a welfare check and ultimately have her committed to a hospital for early dimentia. The cops walked all throughout her home (she lives alone) and could be filming the whole time with body cams. A nefarious person could FOIA that footage if they saw the commotion and would have a full inventory of her house in order to plan a robbery.

So before we just allow anyone to grab the footage to do with it what they want there needs to be some guidelines and limitations. As far as I’m concerned if the cops are dealing with me in my house that’s between me and the cops not someone looking to make a viral video who is not directly involved……my 2 cents worth.

Anonymouse says:

You work for the public

In the end the cops work for the public, other than their break times, there is nothing that should guard them from public scrutiny. There is no expectation of privacy when they are on the job, you should be working!!! Expecting that you’re not always working and that should shield you, is not a valid argument. It just proves you’re not working and you’re not fit to be a public servant. This should be applied for ALL public workers.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...