Should the public be able to see what's recorded on police body cameras?


Body cameras are being introduced to police officers more and more frequently across the state of Minnesota.

But who should get to see or hear what's recorded?

A bill introduced in the House on Thursday offers its own answer: Not the public.

Right now however, the footage is considered public under state law.

And so begins the debate over how to police the police body cameras.

The bill: Data would remain private

Rep. Tony Cornish, a Republican who represents Vernon Center, is one of the three lawmakers with ties to law enforcement who authored the bill. (Click here to read it in full.)

Very simply, the bill would make the audio and video from police body cameras private data. The only people who could access it are investigators (or other law enforcement members) and anyone who is a subject in the video.

The reasoning, Cornish said according to the Associated Press, was to protect individuals who are recorded.

"You could have a half naked housewife that's been beat up with a bloody face, half naked kids running around," he said. "You could have a gun collection. That information needs to remain private."

In addition, recorded data must be destroyed within 90 days if it isn't part of an open investigation.

Opponents: Then what's the point of body cameras?

Police body cameras are often portrayed as the next step in transparency, a safeguard in the wake of increased tensions between officers and the public.

Groups that are against the bill say restricting public access to the video runs counter to what the use of cameras is supposed to achieve: transparency and accountability.

Ben Feist with the ACLU of Minnesota said by making it nonpublic data, "the whole idea that we are able to use the body cameras to watch the police ... really falls by the wayside," MPR reports.

The Star Tribune spoke with Matt Ehling with the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, who said a lot of the sensitive video would be considered classified under current state law anyway.

Where does the bill go from here?

The bill is in its infant stages.

It was introduced in the House, and the 13-member Civil Law and Data Practices Committee will debate it. If it passes there, it could get moved up to the full House for a larger vote.

Still, there is no similar or companion bill on the Senate side – meaning even if it passed the House, a lot of work would have to be done in the other chamber before it got to Gov. Mark Dayton's desk.

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