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Body Worn Video Steering Group

ACLU and Privacy: Open Up Body Camera Footage To Public

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On Friday 6th March, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and a coalition of civil rights organizations and traditional supporters of police accountability came out in opposition to a bill in the Florida Senate regarding police body cameras due to the bill’s overly-broad public record exemptions that could keep evidence of police misconduct from seeing the light of day.

Florida Senate Bill Legislature BWVSG American Civil Liberties Union

In a letter signed by the ACLU of Florida, Dream Defenders, Equality Florida, Emerge USA, Faith in Florida, Florida Coalition for Black Civic Participation, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement – Central Florida, National Congress of Black Women, Organize Now, and South Florida Voices for Working Families, advocates called on legislators to reject SB 248.

“The bill as drafted is potentially a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” stated ACLU of Florida Public Policy Director Michelle Richardson.

“Police body cameras can be a win for both police officers and the communities they serve only if they are governed by policies that balance accountability and privacy. While a growing number of Florida law enforcement agencies have already found that balance, the bill as written would roll back those smart policies and make it possible for the officers who engage in misconduct to hide their behavior from the public.”

An earlier version of the bill was supported by many of the co-signers of the letter, but amendments to the bill as passed out of its first committee would prevent public release of body camera footage: whenever the video is taken in a home; includes footage of someone under 14 or 18 if taken in a school; contains information obtained at emergency scenes; describes events on property used by medical or social service agencies; or is recorded anywhere there is an expectation of privacy.

The bill is next scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, March 10 in the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability committee.

From the letter:

“The current bill undercuts these important outcomes by shielding the video from public view in too many circumstances.
[…]
“While these exceptions purportedly protect the privacy of citizens and police alike, they are far too broad and can prevent disclosure of evidence of police misconduct even in the most egregious circumstances such as the alleged use of excessive or deadly force.

“Also note that, as reported by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, the video can still be released by law enforcement whenever the agency chooses to release the video. The ultimate effect of this bill is not to protect officers, home-owners or victims from embarrassment but to ensure that law enforcement is the sole determiner of when to release video footage.”

Though opposed to SB 248 as currently drafted, the signers urge the members of the committee to look to a separate bill, HB 57, which would require police departments that use police body cameras to create written guidelines governing their use.

A copy of the letter is available here

 

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