Body-worn police cameras are being used more and more frequently, and legislators are currently grappling with how to classify “body cam” data in order to determine what should be public or private.

The debate over body camera policy has become needlessly complicated because some policy advocates are seeking legislative action without a comprehensive understanding of the status of body camera video under existing law.

For instance, the Coalition for Battered Women recently urged the Legislature to declare nearly all body cam data off-limits to the public, saying secrecy is needed to protect the privacy of victims of sexual assault. Police unions also have cited crime victims in arguing for broad restrictions on public access to body cam data. But much data — including video recordings — on victims of sexual assault or other crimes are private under existing state law.

Closing off public access to most body camera data is unnecessary to protect victim privacy, and would have the effect of hiding video related to police accountability. Controversies over recent shootings by law enforcement underscore the need for better documentation of police response, and body cameras are seen as a way to do so. But the cameras’ potential will never be realized if the public is barred from viewing the video.

Legislators should carefully assess this area of law before acting.

Gary Hill, Maple Grove

The writer is chair of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, an advocate for government transparency and accountability.

SEXUAL ASSAULTS

Might the problem begin with an epidemic of pornography?

In “ ‘Boys will be boys’ is no longer an excuse” (April 14), Gail Rosenblum tackled the issue of rising sexual assault on college campuses. She reported that nearly one out of four college women report experiencing a rape or attempted rape. She wisely called for colleges to create respectful and safe campus environments and told of efforts at colleges, such as the Duluth-based organization “Men As Peacemakers,” to do just that.

A ray of hope for sure. But we as a nation — we as a planet — still need to address the broader issue of a culture and mass media that promote women as subhuman, deserving of degradation and violence.

Chief among these is the astronomical rise and proliferation of Internet pornography (a whopping 4.2 million websites worldwide). Anyone who’s looked lately knows that porn is relentlessly pushing the envelope.

Might it be having an impact on behavior? Just a few (among many more) alarming statistics:

• A well-documented study showed that a young man who looks at violent porn is six times more likely to perpetrate sexual assault than one who has not.

• Ninety-three percent of boys under 18 have had exposure to porn.

• American children begin consuming hard-core porn at an average age of 11.

More violent, dehumanizing porn is simultaneous with rising rates of sexual assault and rape on college campuses. Just a coincidence? Doubtful. This is to say nothing of the devastating effects of porn on relationships, and sexual and body-image expectations.

Addressing what’s been dubbed the “American porn crisis” — anywhere from rethinking First Amendment protection (did our founding fathers really have this in mind?) to ideas on how we might control access — is needed desperately and now.

Mary Schiesel Middlecamp, Minneapolis

 

TRANSPORTATION FUNDING

There’s also a business case for promoting walking, biking

The April 10 guest commentary by Scott Wine of Polaris Industries (“Minnesota GOP offers a wise plan for transportation funding”) was correct in that Minnesota “must broaden the source of funding to keep pace with transportation needs.” However, any long-term transportation funding plan should recognize transportation as a multimodal system and also address pedestrian and bicycle needs.

As a longtime business executive, I am convinced that in order to build healthier communities and remain competitive in a regional and global economy, Minnesota must invest in a transportation system that includes choices, including making it safer and easier to walk and bike. Doing that will improve health, help revitalize main streets and keep young people in the community. Property values are higher in walkable neighborhoods; young workers desire transportation options, and the ability to incorporate physical activity into our daily lives can help combat rising health care costs faced by business of all sizes.

That’s a strong business case for why a transportation funding plan should include resources to promote walking and biking.

Christine Bent, Minneapolis

The writer is chair of the American Heart Association’s Healthy Kids Committee and a board member of the American Heart Association-Twin Cities.

 

SUBSIDIZED HOUSING

A better strategy is to forbid discrimination on vouchers

The April 24 article “Met Council seeks suburban low-cost housing options to reverse segregation” presented the struggles of a mother and child in using the Section 8 voucher they recently received. After 150 calls, the mother still has not found an apartment in Hopkins or Eden Prairie, in part because many landlords will not accept vouchers. The Metropolitan Council’s effort to better support Section 8 voucher holders who wish to move to higher-income areas seems positive. But making it illegal to discriminate against Section 8 voucher holders could be even more effective.

Tenants in Connecticut, Oregon and New Jersey already benefit from this type of law. In these states, landlords need not rent to every Section 8 voucher holder who applies, but a voucher cannot be the sole reason to deny an application. Especially in tight rental markets, such as we now have in the Twin Cities, this kind of law would help families struggling to afford housing find homes in the neighborhoods they feel offer them the best opportunity.

Leigh Rosenberg, Minneapolis

The writer is research and communications director for the Minnesota Housing Partnership.

 

BIRD SAFETY

It’s not just stadiums where windows are a threat

The upcoming month of May is the peak time for migration for nearly all our songbirds, and during this time thousands will die from hitting windows, a needless loss. To prevent this from happening in your yard, there are simple steps you can take. Move feeders away from windows or take them down for the spring months. Since birds are fooled by the reflection of trees, clouds, etc., in your windows, you need to break up this reflection. Some of the easy methods I have used include hawk decals, which should be affixed to the outside of the window. They are available from bird supply stores or online. Try “windowalert.com.” Surveyor’s flagging tape (from hardware stores) can be hung on the outside of the window in strips. It moves in the slightest breeze and distracts birds from windows. It can be removed later in the summer. I spray large windows that face the woods with Christmas-snow-in-a-can. It can be washed off later. All these are very inexpensive methods you can deploy to save our migrating warblers and thrushes.

Audrey Lynn Evers, Hoyt Lakes, Minn.