ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — After months of grappling with how to regulate body cameras and pressure from police to lay down ground rules in state law, Minnesota lawmakers found themselves no closer Tuesday to finalizing those guidelines next year.
The Legislative Commission on Data has met with police organizations, community groups and civil liberties experts, only to find more questions than answers in its quest to queue up legislation for the 2016 session, which begins in March.
Just how much footage the public can see remains up in the air. Lawmakers are also wrestling with video retention requirements that could inflate storage costs for agencies and whether officers wearing the technology should get consent before entering a private home.
“I don’t think we’ve really had time to get through this issue,” said Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul.
Body cameras are being deployed across the nation, heralded as a tool to keep police accountable in the wake of the death of a black teen shot by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri. In Minneapolis, officers weren’t wearing the cameras during the Nov. 15 shooting of Jamar Clark after a scuffle with police — the department had recently concluded a pilot project.
But the cameras are already in use in cities across Minnesota even without a state law, allowing agencies to set their own rules for how long to store the videos and when to release them. But a legislative effort led by the Senate stalled last spring due to a standoff with House members and concerns from open government advocates that the bill would restrict public access to footage.
So, Maplewood police Chief Paul Schnell said, many departments are waiting until the state sets guidelines before deploying the technology. The state rebuffed a request from Maplewood and 15 other cities this summer to make most video footage private until the Legislature weighs in.
In Burnsville, police Chief Eric Gieseke said the costs to maintain footage from the 70-plus officers wearing body cameras are the biggest expense for the department. But he and Schnell called them a valuable tool, citing the added ability to gather evidence and disprove misconduct complaints.
“If people have questions about what we’re doing, they can get the video, they can come watch it,” Gieseke said.
The current window into police conduct would have disappeared with last year’s bill, according to law expert Joseph Olson, said which restricted most videos to be viewed by only the subject in the images and the police department, with exceptions when an officer uses deadly force.
Matt Ehling from the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, an open government advocacy group, said lawmakers should require officers to require permission before switching on a body camera while entering someone’s home — or else risk lawsuits for unlawful searches.
“It should be slow and messy creating a law, especially for stuff this complicated,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.
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