Legislation would make police body camera footage unavailable to the public

by: Matt Newburg

12/16/2015 08:54 PM EST
Tags:
  criminal  
  criminal law  
  foia  

A bill has been introduced in the Michigan Legislature that would exempt from public disclosure video and audio footage recorded by police body cameras.

Senate Bill 634, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), would amend the state’s Freedom of Information Act to exempt certain audio and video footage from being made public. 

Jones has said he introduced SB 634 on Dec. 3 because a policy needs to be in place to protect the privacy of individuals. According to the senator, not all incidents recorded by police should be available to the public. For example, footage taken during a domestic dispute should not necessarily be available for everyone to see, he noted. However, if a police shooting or violent confrontation was involved in an incident, Jones has indicated the footage should be made available with a FOIA request.

The proposal has been met with mixed reaction from law enforcement organizations and other associations, including the American Civil Liberties Union. Some say the bill is unclear about how long police departments need to keep recordings, while others applaud its goal of protecting the privacy of individuals.

Jones has said he will seek further input from the Michigan State Police and ACLU before a final version of the bill is presented.

Currently, police departments across mid-Michigan use body cameras.  The East Lansing Police Department began wearing body cameras in early December. The department said it stores videos for 60 days unless they are connected to an investigation or the basis of a FOIA request. The Michigan State University Police Department also recently began wearing body cameras, and come early 2016, the Lansing Police Department will have up to 200 body cameras in use on all road patrol officers. 

In early 2015, Eaton County officers began wearing body cameras, just days before the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Deven Guilford by a deputy. The officer’s body camera captured all but the last few seconds of the incident, after the camera was knocked off during the altercation.

HB 634 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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