Right now, police departments everywhere are moving to get more video cameras.
This is a good thing.
Body-worn cameras can help settle disputes. They can protect good cops from bogus accusations and serve as unblinking witnesses when citizens say they weren’t treated properly.
However, there is a move afoot in Tallahassee to keep much of the video hidden from the public — which is not a good thing. In fact, it defeats the purpose of having cameras.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings won commissioners’ approval to use about $476,000 in funds to begin a body-camera program for deputies. (Video by FOX35)
It could even make things worse if a department has a controversial interaction on film but claims that state law prohibits sharing the video with the public.
This would be like a company installing a video-security system in your home — and then denying you access to the video when you actually get robbed.
There are some noble intentions behind this bill — including privacy concerns I share (more on that in a moment).
But this bill is a hot mess — full of contradictions and ambiguities. It takes a quest for clarity and muddies it all up.
For instance, Senate Bill 248, filed by South Florida Democrat Chris Smith, allows departments to keep video secret for all sorts of reasons — including video recorded anywhere “a reasonable person would expect to be private.”
What does that mean? Well, that could include virtually every home or business in the state.
Still, the bill also says departments can release video recorded in these maybe-private places if the department decides that releasing the video would be “in furtherance of its official duties” or if a judge cites a “compelling interest.”
So you can’t release it … unless you can … based on rules that aren’t defined. And to sort that out, everyone needs to run to a judge.
Put it all together, this bill is one big cornucopia of confusion.
Yet it’s zipping through the Legislature with support from both Democrats and Republicans.
They need to tap the brakes.
First, let me state that I agree that not all video should be public. This puts me at odds with some die-hard public-records advocates and even some in the news business.
I’m OK with that. Why? Because I think there are plenty of instances where video should be protected — everything from scenes that involve juveniles to footage that would traumatize victims or humiliate people who did nothing wrong.
For example, if an officer walks into Grandma’s house — by mistake or just as part of a friendly visit — and somehow catches Granny in the midst of naked yoga, that’s not anyone else’s business (except maybe Granddad’s).
The bill is right when it says departments need clear rules about when cameras should be running.
We also need guidelines to provide basic privacy protections for cases involving children, nudity, mental-health cases and victims of sexual assault. (Maybe exempted video. Maybe technology to blur identities, as the Seattle Police Department started doing.)
But there shouldn’t be a nebulous catch-all category for keeping video secret.
The real problem is that it’s impossible to neatly pre-categorize all crimes and human interaction.
We all know some video should remain private. But it’s impossible to predict every one of those instances.
We are trying to balance truth and justice with privacy and compassion. There will not be a perfect solution.
Still, if the state is intent on getting involved, it might consider setting up a quasi-judicial board that can review video on a case-by-case basis before releasing it to the public.
Right now, Smith’s bill dumps that responsibility on the courts. It would be more effective to have a panel of experts — nominated by diverse interest groups (prosecutors, defense attorneys, public-records experts, police chiefs, the media, etc.) ready to vet the video in quick fashion.
Either that, or the Legislature should boost court funding to pay for all the new judicial positions that will be necessitated by this sweeping bill to vet video requests.
Overall, law enforcement’s growing use of video is building trust and helping make solid cases. So it makes no sense to backtrack.
Original article here.