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.