Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Senator Latz, tell the whole story

There is no question the issue of body cameras is an intricate and complex one.  Secondly, as someone who has been at the Legislature lobbying for four decades I am very much aware of behavior of this institution and the elected officials who make it their workplace.

When there is a convoluted issue which SF 498 presents to policymakers, for many they may chose to ignore the bill or take partial interest, but for sure they rely on a Senator or two to understand and to explain the bill.  With body cameras, work has been done on this issue by Senator Ron Latz. 

A Chief Author of a bill in my judgement there is a special responsibility to be clear and concise what their bill 'truly does'.  In the case of SF 498, Senator Latz did not do this.

As someone who has been involved in the body camera issue since the fall of 2014 I am very much aware by current law a fair amount of video from body cameras are not available to the public and will never be.


Under current law, video dealing with sexual assault, child abuse, vulnerable adults are among other classifications that video would never be released to the general public.  Secondly, law enforcement has vast discretionary authority to not release the data in many situation and be available to the public. This is a guide issued by the Department of Administration which states the current law.  Matter of fact the City of Burnsville have had body cameras for six years, Duluth has had them for two years, both under current

Senator Latz throughout his advocacy of the bill has used the argument "all data" will become public if the Legislature does not act.  I confronted him about his statements off the floor last year and stated it was misleading. In public testimony it was clearly stated by representatives of Minnesota Coalition on Government Information that current law makes private many of the situations used and described as examples. He continued to even ignore that.

Again, when he stated it yesterday "All of the data collected by the devices is public," I was stunned.

The Senator is entitled to do what ever he wants to do, but when the person is not forthright on a dominant rationale for the bill, sunshine needs to be brought to it.

I disagree with the Senator that the bill is balanced.  And discussion can be done on it's merits, but do not obfuscate and instill fear with not being accurate and on the level.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

However, it's still a secret police bill (body cameras)

When I read the Latz/Cornish (SF498/HF430) body camera legislation for the first time, two points came to mind, it was written by police interests for the police and it was barren of any accountability/transparency mechanisms for the public.  In other words, a secret police bill.

I called it a terrible piece of legislation to both legislators when I saw them to discuss their proposal.  One legislator was very direct to me whatever the cops want that is what it will be.  To the Senator I said it was important for three things for the bill: (1) ability for people to know when they are being filmed, and using a mechanism such as consent or a strong notice provision (particularly when in home);  (2) videos from body cameras filmed in public should remain public with current privacy protections in law;  and (3) to address the fast paced technology of body cameras such as facial recognition, live stream, and the video becoming the "document of record."

There were some revisions on the Senate side, but still tilts towards secrecy.  Currently, the Senate bill does not allow the public general access to any body camera video other than when a dangerous weapon is used, or use of physical coercion that causes substantial bodily harm, and it's in a public place.  In other words, almost all body camera video will never be accessible to the public.

Nevertheless, even with modifications the bill is still dangerous.  The main problem it had, it still has. It maintains to deserve the tag what I said in the first paragraph, it's a secret police bill.

The legislation places overwhelming power with law enforcement agencies.  It allows them to interpret language and be discretionary which makes it hard for the public to get access to body camera videos even in what the current Senate bill proposes.  Even places barriers for the subject of the video to get access.  The bill gives the impression that there is transparency to make police accountable with use of body cameras, but it provides little.

The bill sets out guidelines for the benefit of the law enforcement agency, not for the purpose of why body cameras are being adopted in the first place:.  As Mayor Hodges so clearly stated about body cameras they "bring increased accountability and transparency for both the police officers and for the public."  The bill builds it's wall to help the police agency, but not necessarily the public.

The proposal is is below par and awkwardly written.  It is confounding and and allows interpretations from the agency view to make it defective even for the limited release of body camera videos which the bill proposes  It suppresses access to public data.

The bill clearly states, for example, the video would be released to the public if there was physical coercion when there is substantial bodily harm and if in public, but at the same time an agency could say it does not meet their definition of what "substantial bodily harm" is therefore the video is not released.  So where does that leave the public and the promise of transparency and accountability.

The law enforcement agency can do almost whatever it wants to do with the body camera video collected and stored.

For example, when an officer enters your home with a body camera it collects and gathers a great amount of "government data".  What magazines you read which are on your table, the way you live, the food you may eat which is on the kitchen counter, are among the details it captures.  The role of the body camera is to file and save for another time.  Not to rely on the human eye and memory, but to rewind and enhance the digital film to really see what is going on in your home.  All done without your specific consent to film or possible knowledge of the camera.

An officer told me off-the record how law enforcement agencies are looking forward to the treasure trove of videos they will get for intelligence purposes and parallel investigations.

There is no requirement in the bill for a specific consent provision or notification for body cameras filming in your home when there is not a warrant or emergency situation.

In another section of the Senate bill, it provides that body camera video in an inactive criminal investigation are to be private.  In other words, for example, video that documents arrests, incidents that involve use of hold restraints and use of Tasers, even evidence used such as statements by witnesses will not be available to the public.  It appears also body camera video used in evidence in court where there is a conviction would not be available to the public.

The likely and probable abuse of police power hidden from the public is real.  And daunting.

A recent KARE 11 report highlights what law enforcement officers can do and if it was on body camera video the public or news media would never know with the Senate bill or Cornish's.  Two officers found an individual in a car appeared to be under the influence.  They found out he was a cop.  Rather than cite or arrest him he got the treatment of “Professional Courtesy.”  An attitude given to other officers who find themselves in precarious situations as this officer was.  Per the KARE 11 report:  "He was not taken into custody.  No mugshots were taken.  His car was not towed.  Instead, the Blaine officers helped him arrange a ride home."

The "average Joe" would not get this kind of treatment, but maybe the Mayor, a police chief, local politician may, but we would never know if body cam videos are private and secret.

The bills will close down the ability for the public to oversee if law enforcement are doing their duties in a professional and constitutional manner.  If the public was interested to see if a law enforcement agency or it officers has or is doing racially biased policing (such as the Metro Gang Strike Force) you are out of luck.  No public access.

It precludes and bars access to most of the body camera video that documents the most routine of police actions such as arrest, stop and frisk, searches, and stopping of motor vehicles.  One would not be able to see if the pursuit was justified or if the use of force was necessary based on the resistance by an individual.  No public access.

Basically, all video in the public venue such as an arrest would be private and not available to the public.  How police operate on behalf of the public with the power they have should be able to be scrutinized for accountability.  The Latz/Cornish bills do not allow that.

The Senate bill strengthens law enforcement officials to refuse copies of the video even to those who have a right to it: the subjects.  Because of confused draw up of the bill a subject of the video could be denied a full documented copy of the video because of other subjects right to consent before release.  If no consent from other subjects, that part of the video is redacted, even the police officer who actions are part of the video tape, it appears if there is no consent.

The Latz/Cornish bills are skewed towards law enforcement interests not the public interest.  The bill seems to say government of law enforcement, by law enforcement, and for law enforcement.  The bill makes the public and media go through hoops and court to get the most basic of video to oversee agencies that have great power to arrest, detain, and compromise individual liberties and rights.

As top cop lobbyist, Dennis Flaherty states in public testimony last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the use of body cameras is a "new paradigm" which can make officers "more accountable and transparent to the public we serve." but in the same testimony he states "making data public really serves no public purpose." 

Law enforcement need privacy for delicate matters.  There is no question in that.  Current law recognizes that with a number of classifications already for victims and other situations.  The law allows law enforcement a fair amount of discretion already.

But the Latz/Cornish bill is not the approach and policy to take.  It is not an appropriate start for legislation on an issue as complex and intricate on the use of body cameras by Minnesota law enforcement.  And which has a profound impact on our rights of liberty and privacy.  The elemental philosophy underlying the bill is perilous and alarming.  And with three weeks left in session, the legislation cannot be fixed.

The legislation on body cameras this session should die.  Efforts should be put in motion immediately to draft a change to law for the 2017 session. That legislation should deal with the actual issues in a candid, pithy, and unclosed approach.

The data that law enforcement agencies are concerned about can and will be protected under current law til January. As evident by the City of Burnsville who have had body cameras for nearly six years.  Secondly, with recent guidance on body cameras by the Information Policy Analysis Division in regards to the Data Practices Act law enforcement have a lot of tools in their toolkit to keep data from public and the media if they so desire.



Sunday, March 20, 2016

Hennepin County Sheriff watching us from afar with drones?

It was not the public that got the first chance to see a drone being flown under the auspices of the Hennepin County Sheriff last Thursday. (March 17, 2016)  But a number of specially invited people including policymakers.  A legislator confirmed being invited, but did not attend because "too busy" at the Capitol.

The acquisition of a drone by the state's largest populated county raises issues that the public has a right to weigh in on.  For example, the broad expansion of surveillance of individuals that greatly increases what "plain view" and public visibility means.

Does the Sheriff' have rules and policies for his own, leased or possible drones?  If Hennepin County Sheriff has policies are they like swiss-cheese with holes that allows for exploitation of these unmanned aerial vehicles with our privacy rights and civil liberties?  Did the Sheriff get the drones with own appropriated dollars from the County specifically approved by elected Commissioner's?  Homeland Security grant?  Or a deal with a vendor for free or low cost?

With no state law on the books yet for drones, will the Sheriff and supposedly other law enforcement agencies who may have them in Minnesota get search warrants?  What is the role of Federal Aviation Administration regulations and authorization which were just recently released?

Under leadership of Sheriff Stanek, (also BCA) there has been past purchases of sophisticated technology such as the KingFish (cell-phone surveillance device) which can and has compromised individual privacy rights. One reason for law change by the Minnesota Legislature in 2014.

Special invitees got notice about Sheriff Stanek's new tech toy, but no member of the media or public. It was clearly emphasized by the Sheriff, no media or public were to be allowed   This is not unusual behavior of law enforcement.  I know because of decades of experience in trying to get data from law enforcement to bring sunshine to their activities.  My most recent long fight was with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on the Stingray.  If law enforcement does not have to tell the public on these kind of matters, they won't.

The behavior of the Hennepin County Sheriff on this issue and other government entities who may be doing the same, absolutely, sending a message to the public, you have no right to know!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Preparing for FOIA birthday

Today I will be interviewed to give my viewpoint about "Freedom of Information." (FOIA)  The interview is part of a film that is being done in celebration of the Federal Freedom of Information law which will celebrate it's 50th birthday on July 4, 2016.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the bill with some reservations.  He made that clear in a formal message attached to the bill:

"This bill in no way impairs the President's power under our Constitution to provide the confidentiality when the national interest so requires.  There are some who have expressed concerns that the language of this bill will be construed in such a way as to impair Government operations.  I do not share that concern.

I agree with LBJ, FOIA has been an important tool to keep government accountable and scrutinized without damage.  The government is still here.

President Lyndon B. Johnson is pictured. | AP Photo

1966: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
 AP Photo 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

What's Minneapolis position on the body cam bills at Legislature?

Minneapolis is a key player with their influence at the Legislature.  Where they stand on the various bills going through the Legislature - for strong transparency and accountability for the public or very limited transparency and accountability for the public.  Are the elected officials speaking or the law enforcement officials of Minneapolis?

I sent this email to City Council members.  I was only able to find four email addresses out of the 13 Council members.

"My name is Rich Neumeister.  I 've been in the forefront of many privacy and open government issues for nearly 4 decades at the Minnesota Legislature.  I am a citizen who lobbies for no money.  My public record what I have done speaks for itself.

I want to encourage you to take interest on what is happening at the Legislature on the issue of body cameras. Being the state's largest City you will have the most body cameras appendaged to officers gathering "government data" (videos).  Many policymakers in your City have stated that you are interested to develop trust with communities in Minneapolis with the police department in using the powerful tool of body cameras.

Even Mayor Hodges stated: "I am proud to support body cameras for all officers: they are an essential tool for holding officers accountable for their behavior, making corrections when necessary, and building community trust, for police officers have the potential to increase public trust in law enforcement, reduce the risk that citizens will not be victims of excessive force and protect officers from unfounded accusations of abuse."

But these goals - which the Mayor has announced and which many in law enforcement and in the political arena support  - are being squelched by special interests or even by the same parties who say they support "transparency and accountability" at the Minnesota Legislature.

There are three bills on the issue that 3 legislators Rep. Scott, Rep. Cornish, and Senator Latz are involved with. Good article in the Pioneer Press today, on those bills and related issues. http://www.twincities.com/2016/03/04/why-cant-these-3-police-body-camera-bills-find-any-common-ground/

So what is Minneapolis's position on these bills?  Specifics?  The Latz/Cornish bills downgrade accountability and transparency.  As top cop lobbyist, Mr. Flaherty states in public testimony last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the use of body cameras is a "new paradigm" which can make officers "more accountable and transparent to the public we serve." but in the same testimony he states "making data public really serves no public purpose."  He and his organization, Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, support the Latz/Cornish versions of the body camera bill with very little transparency which then allows "hollow" public accountability.  The Minnesota Police Chiefs Association is basically of same persuasion.

I encourage you as policymakers to speak out on what the City's position through your lobbyists on this important issue.

It is my intent to make sure that if body cameras are to be used by Minnesota law enforcement, they are not a front for accountability which would create more distrust, and continue the legacy of decades of "tension and hostility" in the communities where law enforcement officers serve.  I hearten you to do the same. There are grievances because of abrasive/abusive practices and behavior, "further aggravated by the lack of effective mechanism" to deal with complaints against law enforcement.  Body cameras are being proposed to be an effective mechanism for oversight.

But oversight will be hollow and vacant if the laws that regulate the power of this law enforcement tool do not provide real transparency.

I also support a consent provision which allows people to say no in being filmed in their home, which is the very core of the Fourth Amendments protections in non-emergency situations

Any questions, contact me."

Rich Neumeister

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"People" need to show at Legislature on body cameras

Being a member of the public influencing legislation at Minnesota Legislature, one truism stands out:  LAWS ARE MADE BY THOSE WHO SHOW UP!

When it comes to body camera use by Minnesota law enforcement, it's judicious to have agile and sharp legislation in how the cameras and the recording are used.  Questions of many for ourselves to ask can be ones like these:  Can I say no to an officer filming me in the privacy of my home?  Can the public review the the tapes to see if their is a pattern of racial bias and profiling?  Who gets to see the videos and under what situations?  How will they achieve accountability/transparency or is it just another cop tool to be used against the public in secret?

Over the past year since legislation has been introduced on body cameras, SF 498 (Senator Ron Latz) and the companion bill HF 430  (Representative Cornish) there's been several public legislative hearings on the bills.  All were in the Senate.  The House decided not to hold a hearing on HF 430.

Who appeared at the hearings to testify on the body camera bills were the Minnesota Chiefs Police Association, Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, Minnesota Newspaper Association, Minnesota Coalition on Government Information and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.  There were other interested parties on the edges such as the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Sheriffs Association.

These are all established and traditional groups with salaried lobbyists except for one.  Several are pushing for secrecy, less access to the public to body camera videos, and body cameras to be used as a surveillance and investigative tool.  Others are pushing the use of these tools for accountability and transparency.  Some are mixed.  But my point being is that there is really no grassroots community organizations "at the table" who represent people in a unique way "in the community." sharing their viewpoint on body cameras last session.

There is quite a difference of opinion between a representative of  law enforcement who compares a can of mace and a body camera as being the same (law enforcement tool) and lobbies for secrecy of  body camera videos, with the person or community who sees police behavior that is abrasive and abusive or sees and experiences racial bias and profiling.

If the general public and communities viewpoints are not heard, are they being represented by the groups above, maybe yes, maybe no.  But my educated guess on the whole they are not.....

Going back to my first point, "LAWS ARE MADE BY THOSE WHO SHOW UP"

Who shows up to the hearings to testify and to meet the policymakers to share viewpoints determines what the law will be.

So what can you, community/grassroots groups,  and individuals, do in the near future.

(1) Attend the first of many legislative committee hearings on the body camera issue.  Testify yourself or have your group do it. The first one hearing (TENTATIVELY scheduled) will be on Wednesday, December 16, 2015 in Room 200 of the State Office Building.  Tentatively for the morning. To confirm the date and time contact Senator Latz's office at 651-296-8065, or Representative Cornish's office at 296-4240.  The hearing has not been listed, but one can go to this link to find out, formally when it is.  http://www.senate.mn/schedule/schedule.php?ls=&type=upcoming&date=12/03/2015  Change of plans do happen.  Plans are for a joint committee hearing of two House Committees (Public Safety and Civil) and Senate Judiciary.

(2) Bone up on the topic of body cameras.  To help understand what is happening in Minnesota on issues of body cameras, a good start would be to the The Legislative Commission on Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy. The Commission decided to have an opportunity for parties to make comment and who provided material.  The material and the audio of the meeting are here: http://www.lcc.leg.mn/lcdp/meetings.html  (December 1, 2015 meeting).

(3) Follow through on the issue of body cameras when the Legislature convenes in March, but most important start meeting with policymakers and like minded individuals/groups to help shape the legislation.

There are parties demanding the release of any video of Jamar Clark's shooting death be public. If such a tragedy happened like that again or other kinds of abusive and abrasive behavior by law enforcement, in the future, there could be law saying the body camera video is secret to the public.

Other bad behavior by officers also would be under wraps by the legislation without the public having the opportunity to see.

A quote from Justice Arthur Goldberg states: "If law is not made more than a policeman's nightstick, American society will be destroyed."

It is important that any body camera law not be used to shield a policeman's nightstick, gun, or power to be used in secret without accountability and transparency.  The body camera issue is complex and the legislation needs to be looked at in detail.

I have written several posts on body camera issues and concerns.  These are linked here :

http://opensecretsmn.blogspot.com/search?q=body+cameras

Monday, November 30, 2015

The promise of body cameras?

There is a history of a dual standard of law enforcement using abrasive/abusive police practices in our country and communities.  There has been report after report detailing the long history of police prejudice and bad behavior.  Social research in the field has substantiated this behavior for decades.  So what are law makers doing about it?

Out of the blue has come an idea which is advancing across the country:  body cameras.

The idea is being pushed by law enforcement as a concept to bring accountability.  But they also want to use it primarily as an investigative tool.

Many of the proponents echo what Mayor Hodges has stated in her public comments.  Hodges has said: "I am proud to support body cameras for all officers: they are an essential tool for holding officers accountable for their behavior, making corrections when necessary, and building community trust, for police officers have the potential to increase public trust in law enforcement, reduce the risk that citizens will not be victims of excessive force and protect officers from unfounded accusations of abuse."

The mayor also stated that body cameras: "bring increased accountability and transparency for both the police officers and for the public."

But these goals - which the Mayor has announced and which many in law enforcement and in the political arena support  - are being squelched by special interests or even by the same parties who say they support "transparency and accountability" at the Minnesota Legislature.The Senate proposal - which made its way to the floor as an amendment to the license plate reader bill and passed the Senate - is one which in broad terms does not allow public access to  body camera videos.  The legislation takes the current presumption of public access to police body came video and turns it upside down.  One criticism of the approach that the Minnesota Senate took is that there was not a collegial group discussion in the committee process about what privacy protections are already in current law.

Senate File 498 (the Senate body cam bill), says that data are not available to the public except in very limited situations.  I take the position that in some cases the data will be secret.  Privacy in some scenarios is another word for secrecy.  Videos collected by police would not be available to the public except in very limited situations.  For example, take the recent incident of Jamar Clark's shooting.  The standard in the current bill is if the incident involved a dangerous weapon, which was the case, and took place in a public place, which it did, the data would be public......but if the incident happened in a house, it would not be available to the public.

If body cameras are to be a tool to persuade the public that law enforcement can be trusted, accountable, and transparent, the Senate approach is the inappropriate way. To make sure that law enforcement officers and police administrators are doing their job appropriately,  public data is needed.  Proponents of the Senate bill say one just has to get consent of the individual to get access to the video.  Many people are not going to give consent for a number of reasons.  The court process laid out to gain access in the bill is just as high as the "blue wall" which many in the public perceive and believe there is.

There is power with the use of the body camera,.  Who has that power - the guidelines and rules - is what the legislation is all about.

Many actions of law enforcement would be secret under the Senate proposal.  For example, arrests, use of force, detainment, stop and frisk, and testimony.  In those cases, body cameras would become worthless tools for public accountability.

When the Duluth Police Department released body camera video of how a law enforcement officer saved an individual from suicide, I had this thought :if the Senate bill was law, there would be many videos released showing officers doing their duties well, but many others would be kept in the dark, when an officer's duties fall short.

There are issues to consider about public disclosure of body camera videos, but it is important to take the current law in consideration.  Many private situations are already addressed.  Specific concerns can be addressed, but the Senate bill did not take the made-to-measure approach. This is one significant reason among several why it is opposed by several organizations and advocates for transparency/accountability such as the The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, and the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

The Minnesota House did not move on a bill this past session.

Significant large issues need legislative addressing and discussion:

- Fourth Amendment/First Amendment issues. (consent in home/surveillance)

- Role of contractors and vendors.

- Advancement and changing of technology with body cameras. ( such as live stream, facial recognition, miniaturization)

- Use of body camera video for secondary purposes by law enforcement.

- Enforcement and compliance of policies. ( such as same standards across he state or different for each agency)

- Retention. (how long should video be kept, ie)

- When body cameras are on and off.

The list is not final, and issues will arise as discussion, information, and knowledge is gained by the public and policymakers.

It is my intent to make sure that if body cameras are to be used by Minnesota law enforcement, they are not a front for accountability which would create more distrust, and continue the legacy of decades of "tension and hostility" in the communities where law enforcement officers serve. There are grievances because of abrasive/abusive practices and behavior, "further aggravated by the lack of effective mechanism" to deal with complaints against law enforcement.  Body cameras are being proposed to be an effective mechanism for oversight.

But oversight will be hollow and vacant if the laws that regulate the power of this law enforcement tool do not provide real transparency.

Update: February 3, 2016

Since this post has been published an alternative bill (Rep. Peggy Scott) on body cameras has been a subject of a Joint-Committee hearing among the others. The draft bill is listed among the Senate version and current House bill.

Civil Law and Data Practices
House Civil Law and Data Practices, House Public Safety and Crime Prevention and Senate Judiciary Joint Hearing

Room: Room 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Peggy Scott, Rep. Tony Cornish and Sen. Ron Latz

Agenda:

HF430InfoCornishPortable recording system provisions added, and audio and video data captured by a law enforcement officer classified.

Informational hearing on policy related to police-worn body cameras

HF430
SF498
MG 108 (attached)

Committee Documents:
ScottBodyCameraBill.pdf