Saturday, May 21, 2016

Governor Dayton, veto the body camera bill

Less than several weeks after the determination that Jamar Clark's death (shooting by Minneapolis officer) was justifiable by Hennepin County Attorney Freeman, the Minnesota Legislature will be passing a bill that will nearly make all body camera footage unavailable to the public without going through indomitable barriers and court.

The Conference Committee which reached agreement is being lauded by Senator Latz and Representative Cornish as a balanced bill for transparency, accountability, and as a vehicle of building public trust.  What was not mentioned is the impediments that the individuals including the subjects and public will have in getting access to the footage. Also not cited are the added protections it yields to officers who may be under inquiry, likewise the secrecy of officers bad behavior which the public will never know about or see.

The calls for greater accountability and transparency. nationally and locally with the use of body cameras, is being hacked to zero by the SF 498 Conference Committee report. (agreed upon bill)

Language in the bill allows an officer to review footage which can be evidence before they do a report or make a statement.  A practice that community groups and organizations from NAACP to American Civil Liberties Union oppose.  Made-to-measure statements done by officers is the fear that critics have of this provision. Tainting the evidence.  Officers under investigation for wrong doing would be able to review their own evidence (body camera footage) before the investigators could question them in a formal report or statement setting.

The City of Minneapolis are endowing hundreds of body cameras to their officers to build trust, accountability, and transparency.  This action can show that there is nothing to hide as their officers do their duties on the public streets and be answerable.  But this is for nought. 

The body camera footage is the document, the 21st Century document, the public should be able to have access to the video in situations such as arrest and general use of force situations.  To control body camera video with barricades of judgment and construing such words as what is "substantial bodily harm" or "common sensibilities" means the body cam footage is secret and defeats the purpose of the cameras.

There are parts of the legislation that allows for narrow public access but it is blocked with mechanisms of interpretation by the same agency that the public may have interest in to see if they are doing their job.  Why it is important for clear and unfettered access for the public in specific bearings, such as officer shootings and demonstrable use of force.

The deployment and use of body cameras and what the governing rules should be are knotty and arduous.  But what the Legislature will be passing is not what it should be. Without significant input from grassroots organizations, and the greased passage of bill by the Minnesota House in last 10 days ending with the Conference Committee report yesterday, the bill is the one that law enforcement wants and is chuckling behind the scenes saying......we have fooled the public on this one!

Even so, under current law police departments such as Duluth and Burnsville, as example, have implemented body camera programs and have made accountability and transparency a preference with protecting people's privacy.  Minneapolis is set on doing body cameras whether or not the law changed.  Instead, of rushing through this drastic and exorbitant legislative proposal, the Legislature may want to hold back, but I do not see that happening.

So, who does the responsibility sit upon, the Governor.  Governor Dayton can either sign or veto the body camera bill.  I urge him to veto the bill and the public should also. 

As I said in a previous post:

Governor Dayton can take the lead in doing this by having a task force appointed with various groups and interests represented in a fair and open matter.  With this action the Governor ensures that Minnesotan's will realize what the use of body cameras will do and the power of this new technology and what robust safeguards are needed.  Senate File 498 is not it, the legislation makes law enforcement who have considerable power over the lives of Minnesotan's the least accountable to the public with this new tool.

These are all the posts I have done on body cameras sorted by date.


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