Sunday, September 27, 2015

Not use cost as reason for secrecy with body cams

In the underbelly of discussion with body cameras in Minnesota is the "it costs too much money" argument.  The bemoaning and griping of many law enforcement and local government officials can be heard before the Legislature, city councils, and other venues.  Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, has said to the Star Tribune protecting "departments from costly and time-consuming editing" from public data requests, is one reason why they support in the Legislature, HF430/SF498.  The bill makes basically all videos collected by body cameras private or not public.  In the same article, Mr. Skoogman says the bill "keeps police accountable....." I am scratching my head on that one.  How can a police department be accountable and transparent with its behavior to the public if most of the body camera video is not public to the community?

Words about cost is one of the major rationale to keep the videos secret.  In a recent application to the Commissioner of Administration to make most body camera videos secret, less accessible to the public, signed by 24 cities, uses an excuse that access to the general public will bring "exorbitant cost involved with responding to requests...."  A group of law enforcement officials and cities are trying for the second time to go around the Legislature to make data collected form the body cameras not public.

I have been told by a law enforcement official,  a major motivation to keep body camera video, not public, is the cost factor, particularly with smaller cities other than Minneapolis and St Paul.  The person described the financial pressure to review and redact the videos may cause.  Some local political subdivisions will not buy body camera systems unless there is less body camera videos available to the public, the authority commented.  Rationale for secrecy!

Under current law, a fair amount of body camera video is not available to the public.  The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act gives law enforcement ample leeway to not disclose recordings to protect ongoing investigations and individuals privacy. But many others want to go way beyond that pushing to keep videos from the public to a point gouging increased accountability and transparency.

There is a compelling need for civic accountability with law enforcement agencies.  Arguments to make body camera video not accessible to the populous based on cost is ill-advised and uncalled for.  It undermines the body camera idea to advance faith and confidence between the public and law enforcement.