Calls for Transparency with Body Camera Footage

As the General Assembly debates legislation that would create state-wide standards for police body cameras issues of transparency and accountability take center stage for advocates who believe in broad access for video records and local governments and law enforcement agencies who have concerns. As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

“We think that the requests [to see and copy videos] should be limited solely to the criminal proceeding in which the recording is relevant,” Kamenetz told members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee during a hearing last week.

Otherwise, he said, officers could be forced to spend “hours and hours” screening videos to find requested footage and determine if all or part of it could be released. As an example, he suggested that a lawyer pursuing a lawsuit over a bus crash might request any body camera footage in the vicinity of the accident in a search for evidence to back up the civil case.

The Maryland Association of Counties called for an amendment to ensure that the recordings would not be open to “broad, time-consuming and costly public information requests.” And Prince George’s County Sheriff Melvin High, speaking on behalf of the state’s police chiefs and sheriffs, urged lawmakers to see that only “persons of interest” — those intentionally filmed by police — should have a right to view them.

Public-records laws differ around the country, but Miller said some law enforcement agencies are voicing concerns about the costs of having to respond to requests to see or have copies of videos. One department reported that it takes 21/2 hours to review an hourlong recording and redact inappropriate content, she said.

However advocates push for greater public access to any footage. As the article explains:

But civil liberties advocates oppose the move, saying the law already gives police sufficient latitude to withhold recordings to protect both their investigations and citizens’ privacy. And they warn that keeping videos secret would undermine one of the major reasons for fitting officers with body cameras, the effort to reduce public suspicion about police.

“People want to be able to see for themselves,” said David Rocah, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. He said proposals to exempt body camera videos from the state’s public-records law are “misguided” and “utterly counterproductive.”

An editorial in the Cumberland Times-News echoes the push for transparency:

If the Maryland General Assembly issues statewide standards for police body cameras, it should do so with the proviso that the public has wide latitude in viewing the videos.

We agree. Routinely withholding videos would only heighten public suspicion about police misconduct.

The overwhelming number of law enforcement agencies and personnel act in a responsible and professional manner when dealing with the public. But when occasions arise that call into question police conduct, police camera video should be readily available to the public.

The Maryland General Assembly needs to keep the Maryland Open Meetings Law intact.

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Sun and the editorial in the Cumberland Times-News.

Previous coverage on Conduit Street.