Police Body Camera Footage to Remain Public in Minnesota—for Now

Law enforcement wants to keep them secret, but that requires legislation.


Get those records requests ready.

Minnesota police will not be following in the footsteps of the Los Angeles Police Department, at least not without the help of the state's legislature.

The Los Angeles Police Department will be keeping its body camera footage for internal use only unless a judge orders its release. Police chiefs in Minnesota wanted to operate under similar rules. But the commissioner of their Department of Administration says they can't. Minnesota state law designates them as public records. If they want body camera footage to be treated differently, they have to get the law changed. From the Associated Press:

"Minnesota's data practices laws are designed to be neutral to technology," [Commissionaer Matt] Massman wrote. "The reality is, however, that body cams have the potential to collect substantial amounts of video and audio in private and very sensitive circumstances."

Transparency watchdogs contend that making footage private would lessen the accountability aspect of body cameras.

Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell, who spearheaded the request, said the police departments knew the request was a longshot.

"We had hoped we could have moved forward," Schnell told the Associated Press on Monday. Now, the group will focus on working out a legislative solution, "which we knew all along was our ultimate goal," Schnell said.

The story notes that there are situations where many people would likely want the privacy of the people on the other side of the camera respected in sensitive situations. But the larger issue is whether the police departments themselves should be the ones calling the shots here, as Chief Charlie Beck plans to do in Los Angeles. Giving the police department themselves the authority to decide whether body camera footage should be released provides incentives for the police to both withhold footage from the public that paints its officers in a negative light and release footage that could bias the public against suspects.

The American Civil Liberties Union has model legislation that would create an environment for police to use body camera footage for accountability purposes, while also protecting the privacy of everyday citizens when necessary. Maybe Minnesota's legislators will consult it if they plan to pass a new law.

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  1. Cops hate video that contradicts their boilerplate lies, so of course they don’t want it to be available to the public.

    1. In such cases the body cameras will conveniently ‘malfunction’, just like the dashcams.

      1. The suspect caused my body cam to shut down as we approached his vehicle. I had no choice but to shoot him.

  2. I love the fact that the police here have been lobbying so hard against this by touting how if the records are public lots of people (who aren’t convicted of anything) will be so embarrassed.

    However, yesterday they sent a press release to the local rag bragging about how they nabbed 21 guys in a underage prostitution sting. Funny, though, they named all the johns before they had been convicted of anything.


    It isn’t possible that our heroes in blue are talking out both sides of their mouths is it?

    1. Eggszakly. The cops are only too eager to plaster names all over for arrests. I myself believe that no matter how embarrassing my own arrest would be, no matter how false the charges, I’d rather have it public so the cops can’t sneak people off in the middle of the night. Just as court should be public to prevent secret trials, so should arrests be public to prevent secret police.

  3. [Commissionaer Matt] Massman

    is also an orthopaedic surgeon interested in haemopheresis.

  4. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.

  5. There are legitimate privacy concerns about letting the whole world into your house it you call the police for some insane reason. Oh check out that dudes 80″ flatscreen right by the patio door with the cheap lock.

    1. Which is why the citizen accused of the crime/ going after the cops for civil rights violations should be the one who decides whether the video needs to be released to the public.

      1. Sounds like a solid plan to me dude.

  6. Why don’t politicians wear body camera’s?

    1. Because we don’t want to discover that SF’s stories aren’t fiction?

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