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.  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:  (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 :