House committee resurrects body cam regulations
ST. PAUL -- Police body camera video generally would be kept secret in a Minnesota House bill a committee approved 11-2 Tuesday, reviving a measure once thought to be done for the year.With less than two weeks left in the 2016 legislative session...
ST. PAUL - Police body camera video generally would be kept secret in a Minnesota House bill a committee approved 11-2 Tuesday, reviving a measure once thought to be done for the year.
With less than two weeks left in the 2016 legislative session, it was not clear if there is time to pass the controversial bill. The bill is to be heard by a second House committee Wednesday.
The Senate has passed its version of the measure.
Bill sponsor Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said his bill results from “a balance struck between privacy and transparency.” In an interview, he said work on the bill has progressed over the course of a year, with the bill ending up as a compromise with law enforcement organization support.
But Chairwoman Peggy Scott, R-Andover, of the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee said she opposes the bill.
“I think this lacks transparency and does not protect privacy in our own homes,” Scott said.
Like many opponents, Scott’s main criticism was that police could shoot videos in people’s homes, violating their right of privacy.
Scott’s opposition had been expected to stop the bill from coming to her committee, and scheduling the bill hearing came as a surprise.
After more than 4.5 hours of testimony, Rep. John Lesch, D-St. Paul, said: “I still feel it has raised more questions than answers.”
Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell said the legislation would enhance “police accountability,” although Scott said some video never would be released when police take improper actions.
Most testifiers Tuesday opposed the Cornish bill.
Representatives of minority communities said that the state must allow more release of video so police wrongdoing can be proven.
Lesch asked if police officers could demand that their likeness be removed from video. Schnell said that the bill would allow that.
He said that is a major problem. “As public servants, you are subject to review by the public.”
Long-time open-government advocate Rich Neumeister told the committee that the bill was sold as providing a way to hold police accountable.
“Throughout the bill, there is a lot of discretion and a lot of interpretation by law enforcement,” Neumeister said.
For instance, he said, the bill allows video that violates “common sensibilities” be kept private. But police could interpret that strictly to keep more video secret, he said.
“So what happens?” he asked about people who want video made public. “They have to go to court.”
Neumeister called the legislation “a secret police bill” and urged lawmakers to require officers to get permission before recording in a home.
Cornish said that he opposes requiring police to get approval before recording in a house. “Consent would cut the effectiveness of the whole thing.”
At least 27 cities are waiting for the Legislature to decide on what is public and what is private in body cam videos before deciding whether to buy them.