Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Many states debating freedom of information involving body cameras used by law enforcement

As a growing number of law enforcement officers are wearing body cameras, debates are brewing about whether or not the recorded images should be made available to journalists and the public through open records requests, Kelly Swanson reports for Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press. (Associated Press photo)

"In many states, citizens have the ability to request copies of footage from police worn body cameras through their state’s public record law," Swanson writes. "However, fear of privacy issues that this new technology may create is causing a rush to propose broad categorical FOIA exemptions of body camera footage, perpetuating the current barrier between many law enforcement officials and the public."

"Of the 26 states that have either introduced or passed a law addressing the question of whether or not the footage should be public record, 21 states have proposed regulations that require additional restrictions, which hamper public access in varying levels of exclusion," Swanson writes. "Restrictions range from 'private place' restrictions, to restrictions on footage taken in health care facilities, to full exemptions unless the individual requesting the recording is the subject of the footage."

Freedom of Information advocates say public access to police footage could strengthen relationships between local police and the community, could reveal whether or not the cameras are being used effectively and could show who is at fault in an incident—something particularly important in light of the recent surge of incidents in which police officers were involved in the shooting deaths of citizens, Swanson writes.

Florida ACLU Vice President Michael Barfield, "who sued the City of Sarasota and Police Chief Bernadette DiPino after police officials charged him $18,000 for his request for the 84 hours recorded for the test program of police body-cameras," told Swanson, “Body cams I think can be a win-win situation for both the officer and the citizen, but it defeats the entire purpose of accountability if we are not going to have transparency in terms of getting access to this footage.” (Read more)

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