The Minnesota House passed legislation Monday night that spelled out rules for police departments deploying officer body cameras, overcoming objections that the measure favored law enforcement over citizens.
Legislators defeated a series of amendments aimed at giving the public more rights to see body camera videos and have a say in how they were recorded. The proposals sparked heated debate, with bill sponsor Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center calling one amendment “disgusting” for making it tougher for a cop facing a misconduct complaint to not have had his or her body camera turned on during the incident.
The Senate passed similar legislation last week. The measure is expected to head to conference committee so that lawmakers can come to an agreement on a final version of the law before the session ends on May 23.
Cornish's bill classifies body camera recordings as private unless they were filmed in a public place and the incident involved an officer's use of a dangerous weapon or other force that caused "substantial bodily harm." Other exceptions would be made for a subject in the video requesting that it be made public, provided that images of other citizens who did not want to be seen on the video were blurred out.
Rep. John Lesh, DFL-St. Paul said the legislation classified all body camera data private by default and unsuccessfully proposed an amendment allowing people to access the data when an arrest took place or a weapon was used. “These are folks who have been arrested and I cannot foresee a really good reason as to why that information should be kept secret,” he said.
But Cornish retorted that such an amendment would publicize videos of people beign arrested who had never been charged. Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis said Facebook groups on the North Side would be putting all the camera footage online and “I am opposed to this; I just can’t imagine how this could go on.”
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, who had unsuccessfully argued for a more citizen-friendly bill this session, suggested an amendment requiring cops to disclose that they were filming with a body camera if a citizen asked, assuming they were in a situation in which the officer’s life was not in danger. That, too, failed, after Cornish said it automatically assumed the officer was lying.
“I find it really sad that we’re even to this point in our society where we have to have a surveillance tool like this … this bill does lack accountability and transparency,” said Scott, suggesting that the legislation would have a chilling effect on people who want to call the police to report a crime but are concerned about their privacy.
Cornish said critics had been “fed a line here” that the proposal sided with law enforcement. He said almost no one showed up from the community of privacy advocates, while law enforcement came down “all overe here at different times and gave us facts and figures.”
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