Minnesota Police Want Body Cam Footage to Remain Private

Police Departments in 16 Minnesota cities don't want the public to have access to body camera footage -- at least until a comprehensive statewide plan is adopted.

by Libor Jany, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) / September 16, 2015
The Minneapolis police released footage depicting a woman’s dead body after a public records request, which provoked a public debate on privacy. flickr/Taber Andrew Bain
(TNS) -- Law enforcement officials in 16 Minnesota cities are asking state officials to temporarily keep private most video footage captured by police body cameras.

The move is an attempt to quash “the public’s hunger for sensationalism or gossip,” at least until a more comprehensive statewide plan on handling the data is adopted.

Calls for restricting the release of footage is the newest tension as the tiny cameras become more prevalent around the state, creating new questions about storing the data and when the footage should be made public.

“Body-worn cameras raise privacy concerns that have not to date been addressed” by the Legislature, read the petition, prepared by Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell.

The petition said the technology can sometimes record intimate moments with the public that do not advance law enforcement. “The privacy interests under these circumstances should prevail over the public’s hunger for sensationalism or gossip,” the petitioners said.

In a report released earlier this year, a group cited Minneapolis police, who released footage depicting a woman’s dead body after a public records request, provoking a public debate on privacy.

Maplewood was joined in signing the petition, filed with the Department of Administration, by Brooklyn Park, Aitkin and Burnsville, one of the early adopters of body cameras for officers.

The other cities are: Baxter, Big Lake, Brainerd, Farmington, Grand Rapids, Jordan, Montevideo, Onamia, Richfield, Rochester, St. Anthony and Starbuck.

Missing from the petition were the state’s two largest metropolitan police forces.

“We will continue to follow the data practices laws, and we are certainly open to discussing other options based on what best serves the public and the integrity of the video evidence,” said Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau, who hasn’t taken a public stance in the privacy-vs.-accountability debate.

Harteau, who met with community leaders Tuesday to discuss anti-crime efforts, said her department was still in “the infancy of developing our body camera program.”

City officials are expected to pick a body-camera vendor later this fall, and a full department rollout is expected in early 2016.

Last month, a Minneapolis police oversight body enthusiastically endorsed a series of recommendations regarding the use of the cameras by city police officers, while deferring to the state’s data practices law on questions of what footage is exempt from public review.

“The city is reviewing those recommendations and is in the process of formulating a legislative policy position on body camera video and the data privacy laws,” said Alexandra Fetissoff, a spokeswoman for Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges.

In Minnesota, at least 41 law enforcement agencies have started using the diminutive video devices.

The state Legislature this year considered adopting a uniform statewide policy, but ultimately decided to revisit the matter. Several states, including New Hampshire and California, are considering similar legislation, according to the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.

A new Florida law restricts public access to any footage shot in a private residence,and a health care, mental health care or social services facility, or other place where there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy.

State Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, is concerned about having different rules for video recorded in public and private spaces, saying that releasing footage shot inside homes violated a reasonable expectation of privacy. Making such video available to the public, he argued, could potentially deter a victim from calling 911 out of concern that the video of the encounter could become public.

Some public accountability advocates want more public access. “One of the main thrusts or purposes of having body cams is to provide more [of the] public with a record of what police officers are doing in our communities,” said Gary Hill, chairman of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, a government transparency advocacy group.

“The existing data practices act,” he said, “covers much of privacy issues that police are raising in the ­petition.”

©2015 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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