Legislators in at least 15 states have introduced bills to exempt video recordings of police encounters with citizens from state public records laws, or to limit what can be made public, undermining their promise as tool to hold law enforcement accountable, the Associated Press reports. The stated motive: preserving the privacy of people being videotaped, and saving considerable time and money on public information requests as the technology quickly becomes more widely used. Advocates for open government and civil rights are alarmed.
Police departments are spending millions to outfit officers with cameras and archive the results. The responsibility to record controversial encounters, retain copies and decide what to make public mostly rests with the same police, whose decisions can be unilateral and final in many cases. “It undercuts the whole purpose of the cameras,” said Michelle Richardson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “People behave better on film, whether it’s the police or the suspect, because they realize others are going to see them. When you take away that possible consequence, you really undercut the oversight value of these.” Supporters of the bills say the privacy rights of crime victims and witnesses need protecting, and that police need to limit the costly public records requests they’re getting. Routinely releasing videos will deter people from calling for help and cooperating with police, they say.