A new push to craft a statewide body-camera proposal is exposing a wide rift between those seeking to balance individuals’ privacy with efforts to bolster accountability of police officers.
Legislators convened for a hearing Wednesday, during which Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, unveiled a proposal that outlines how police agencies would be required to utilize and make public video and audio recorded by police body cameras.
State leaders have not yet clarified how police departments must use the data, creating a patchwork of different policies as more law enforcement agencies are using the new technology. Local police chiefs are looking for state guidance on issues with huge financial implications for local governments — like how long they must store the data and who is entitled to see it. Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration has twice rebuffed authorities’ request to clamp down on the release of footage, saying the issue should be decided by the Legislature.
The renewed debate comes as police departments grapple with best practices for the small cameras, which record interactions between authorities and residents at sometimes tense and delicate times, like after domestic abuse. The portable cameras have been touted by advocates as a tool to curb potential misbehavior by police officers and build trust within communities and law enforcement officials. Minneapolis police, for instance, are expected to roll out cameras departmentwide early next year. The technology is already in use by other Minnesota departments, including Duluth.
Scott, chairwoman of the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee, said her bill was the result of three recent meetings with police, privacy advocates and others. “This is a very complex subject, with many moving parts,” she said.
Scott’s bill is one of three legislative proposals governing body cameras that lawmakers are considering. Two other proposals by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, and Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, languished at the end of the last legislative session in May.
The Senate approved the Latz proposal in May, but it was never adopted in the House. Cornish, who last year was more focused on the passage of a measure related to license plate readers, said the issue could wait until the upcoming legislative session, scheduled to convene in March.
Scott’s proposal defines what type of footage would be considered private, and also detailed when police officers would be required to turn on their body cams. Officers would have to record interactions when responding to all emergencies, incidents or request for services.
In use-of-force cases, an officer would also be prohibited from reviewing body camera footage before completing a final report, under Scott’s proposal. It would also require officers to receive consent before recording on private property or in an area where a person would have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” such as a home.
Officers would be exempt from seeking consent if there are “exigent circumstances” or if they are serving a search warrant.
Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-Cottage Grove, questioned the feasibility of gaining consent in the heat of police work. He asked whether a police officer making first contact with a kidnapping suspect would be able to record the person’s initial reaction, for instance.
Schoen also criticized legislators for not passing legislation addressing the use of body cameras. “This is not the first year this discussion has come up … if we can’t get this done, then shame on us,” said Schoen, who is a police officer.