seeks to impose statewide rules on release of body camera footage, is bad public policy and should be defeated. As currently written, the bill would require law enforcement agencies to release, within 90 calendar days, all body camera video of a use of force incident or where there "is reasonably believed to involve a violation of law or public policy."
Police reports in pending cases have long been allowed to be withheld from public disclosure pending the disposition of the case. The Supreme Court has
these measures, noting to do otherwise could result in jeopardizing ongoing investigations. A video recording, like a written report, documents an event and should receive the same protections. However, a crucial difference is the recording is actual evidence; unlike a written report, it can be introduced in court as evidence. Public revelation of this evidence, for what appears to be no reason other than to allow public debate and conclusions to be reached, jeopardizes the right to a fair trial of anybody charged in connection with events depicted in the camera footage.
Aside from the impact on investigations/prosecutions, this bill imposes an enormous financial burden on departments. The vague definition of what is "reasonably believed" to involve a policy or law violation requires the storage and cataloging of an unlimited amount of footage, as the value or relevance of footage may not be immediately known. This state law provides no money to solve these problems, but leaves departments open to charges they are avoiding releasing footage when in fact they may not be able to access the footage immediately.
The fundamental problem with this law, however, is that it is based on the myth that seeing a snippet of footage of an incident allows one to judge the propriety of actions taken by a law enforcement officer. As we have blogged before, videos tell only a portion of a story,
not the whole story
There is no sound public policy reason to treat videos any differently than written reports, which by longstanding state law are withheld from public disclosure until a filing decision has been reached or a case concluded.