Two Former Cops Lead Legislative Charge To Shield Body Camera Footage From Public Inspection

from the the-blue-line-goes-all-the-way-to-the-top dept

Body cameras have become democratized, for lack of a better word. They’re relatively cheap, easy to use and can be deployed with minimal setup. They hold the promise of increased transparency and accountability, but legislators seem far more interested in ensuring the new technology will have zero net positive effects.

Four Indiana legislators — two of them former law enforcement officers — have introduced a bill that will keep the public out of the loop as far as body camera footage is concerned.

A newly proposed Indiana bill would allow police departments to decide whether to release video footage captured on body-worn or dashboard cameras to the general public.

House Bill 1019 immediately drew criticism from the Hoosier State Press Association, which argued the bill could undermine the purpose of such cameras in the first place: to increase police transparency and allow the public to hold law enforcement accountable.

The proposed legislation would compel police departments to show recordings of law enforcement actions only to either the person depicted in the video or that person’s relatives or attorney. For anyone else, the decision to release is up to the department.

Leaving the decision to the discretion of law enforcement agencies does nothing but encourage the burial of any footage that doesn’t show officers in the best light. Sure, there’s a remedy, but it’s not an affordable option. The final decision by law enforcement agencies can be challenged, but only if the requester is willing to put a lot of time and money on the line.

Should the agency say no, the bill says, the person requesting the video would have to take the department to court and argue for the video’s release.

The legislators behind this bill know exactly what sort of opacity this will encourage. They cannot be that ignorant. They’re just playing to their most powerful constituents — especially the two who were officers before they were officials.

Other supporters of the bill likely know the intended side effects of the legislation as well, but they’ve decided it’s more important to “protect” the police from the public, rather than the other way around. This particularly disingenuous statement from a supportive lawmaker pays the most minimum of lip service to the public’s privacy concerns before going all #bluelivesmatter.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, an Evansville Republican, questioned whether the public or media should have access to footage that could potentially compromise the privacy of a person shown in the video, such as a witness to a crime.

“Which becomes more important?” she asked. “The privacy aspect of the individuals involved in the situation, or the public’s need to, you know, hang a rope around peoples’ necks at the jump of a video?

The “people” she’s referring to, of course, are the ones with extra rights and vast amounts of power. Those are the “people” who need to be saved from the big bad Public, who apparently just want to see law enforcement officers hang for their perceived sins — a desire that wouldn’t be so intense if law enforcement agencies performed more “hangings” of their own.

The bill may be altered en route to the governor’s desk, but with this type of support behind it, it’s likely the legislation will still err on the side of protecting law enforcement. One suggested fix is nothing more than shifting the burden of proof for refusals to the agency denying the request, which would greatly decrease the chance that an expensive lawsuit will be the only route to full disclosure.

In one major way, this bill is worse than others we’ve looked at. The law wouldn’t even require agencies to hand over a copy of available footage to those the legislation grants access to.

While the person shown in the footage can view the video, the bill does not also require the department to give them a copy. That decision is up to the department.

This means those filing abuse or misconduct complaints could be denied access to their own copy of the footage of the incident in question. The accused agency would still have complete control over the footage, making it extremely difficult for accusers to back up their assertions.

There’s no excuse for this sort of legislation. The supporters claim to be concerned about protecting the public from its own prying eyes, but they’re really only interested in shielding public servants from the people they serve.

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Comments on “Two Former Cops Lead Legislative Charge To Shield Body Camera Footage From Public Inspection”

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27 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

They might want to take a look at their neighbors in Chicago. You can hide police video all you want, but as soon as even one cover-up gets outed, cops & politicians might actually have to pay for it these days. If Chicago cops & co. are getting blowback for trying to sweep things under the rug, it could happen anywhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Weirdly enough, the “victims are being paid with the money of their friends & neighbors” reminder is usually the one I try to drop into a conversation. But yeah, we pay for it. We’ve paid for it in the past. We’ll pay for it in the future. But if Officer Jason Van Dyke can be charged with murder in Chicago, maybe we at least won’t be the only people paying for it.

That said, the Chicago cop (Jon Burge) who ran the Midnight Squad that tortured* people for twenty years spent a couple years in segregated custody at a cushy prison for perjury (statute of limitations on torture were up**, so no jail time for that) and is now free and collecting his damn pension. Please forgive me if you’ve that one before, I just feel compelled to bring it up when talking about Chicago.

_____
* – Actual, bona fide Hollywood torture: car batteries clamped to genitals type things.

** – I’m still not clear on why torture needs to have a statute of limitations in IL. On second thought, duh, yes I am. Because of cops like Burge.

DigDug says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Think that would stop prosecution of war crimes?

That’s what these badged criminals are, they’re “fighting the war on drugs” right? That makes them soldiers, which means they have to follow all the rules, including the Geneva convention which outlaws all of these sorts of things.

Let’s round em up, give them their due trials, then execution time as due for their actions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

A couple years ago I thought about making a public database of all the bad cops that show up in the news (have to scan & scrape a lot of small local online news orgs to get a lot of ’em). Then I noticed that with copwatch, pinac, Balko, etc., there was probably someone already presenting searchable ‘bad cop’ lists. Plus, I realized that I couldn’t afford a lawyer to handle the kind of LEA harassment that comes the way of the Carlos Millers out there.

Weird thing is, there are now (finally) tons of people tracking the victims of police misconduct, but I can’t think of a decent big list of the bad cops. Can’t even find one on copblock (they have a name search, but it uses instantcheckmate.com…?). Anyone?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Ah yes the insane world of politics…

We do things to get the all important law & order support, even if it means screwing citizens over.

The problem seems to be the disconnect in many peoples minds that it hasn’t happened to them or anyone in their friend circle… so it doesn’t happen. All of these news stories showing unarmed people shot in the back are just setups and twisting the facts… because to accept that some cops are bad shakes the whole worldview they have.

Pretending to offer accountability while making sure the same broken system can continue should result in a change in leadership… instead they get an endorsement from people who can’t imagine themselves on the receiving end.

Anonymous Coward says:

Easy way to fix this

Cops need to have their bodycam on and recording at all times (both video and audio). Live feeds will be available to the general public via the internet without restriction. All footage is hosted on government servers for a period of 5 years before being deleted (unless it is used in an investigation or court case). The general public will be able to download any and all footage and store them permanently.

If a cop’s bodycam ever stops recording audio or video, or is impeded in some way (cop covers it with clothing or there’s a technical problem), the cop immediately is considered a normal civilian, immediately loses their powers of law enforcement status and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for any actions they take.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Easy way to fix this

Let’s say an officer is doing a no-knock raid, gets the wrong house, invades someone’s shower, and gets footage of the person naked. Do we REALLY want this footage to be released live? What if the person is filling out their taxes and the camera captures enough information for anyone to steal their identity? Or what if a bunch of people see, live, the police gathering evidence of a crime, and that evidence is later suppressed? How is the person supposed to get a fair trial in that situation?

Remember that these cameras are filming US.

JBDragon (profile) says:

The Cop’s should be happy to have the Camera’a if they’re good Cops. People do all kinds of things, BAD things and then try to make it look like the police did something wrong. Yet here they are just wanting to block it all from the public. To me it looks like the same old same old. The police protecting their own, even though they’re BAD. Doesn’t seem to matter. As far as I’m concerned, if you protect a bad cop, you’re just as bad of a cop!!!

Personanongrata says:

No Accountability Then Withdraw Your Consent

Two Former Cops Lead Legislative Charge To Shield Body Camera Footage From Public Inspection

It is clear that many cops only want two things from American citizens they perceive as potential enemy combatants:

1. Our money in the form of taxes and civil asset forfeiture

2. Our unquestioning compliance.

Let the petty-tyrants operating under guise of law enforcement officers fund their incipient police state with a bake sale.

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