Legislation currently under debate in Florida’s Senate provides overly broad exemptions to the public release of videos captured by law enforcement body cameras. That effectively undermines the stated intention of the cameras — to increase transparency and public trust in officers.
Video also protects law enforcement from false accusations of abuse and misconduct, and the presence of the body cameras will restrain officers from engaging in excessive force.
Senate Bill 248 handcuffs transparency, though, by shielding too many episodes from public view, ostensibly over privacy concerns.
For the most part, the measure puts the decision to release body camera videos into the hands of law enforcement and the individuals caught in the pictures.
The general public’s only recourse is obtaining a court order, but the bill requires a high hurdle as judges would have to consider whether the reputations of the people in the video would be harmed or if the pictures exposed personal information. Those are among the eight factors judges would be required to consider.
Recordings would be confidential under these circumstances: video shot inside a private residence and a facility that offers physical and mental health care; at the scene of a medical emergency involving death or serious injury; and any place that a reasonable person would expect privacy.
Would a motor vehicle — out on public roads — fall under this vague privacy provision? The bill contains other ambiguities as well.
Officers could charge into a residence and beat occupants but face no public video consequences. Police could violate their sworn oaths with bad behavior in hospitals and elsewhere, also without public condemnation.
On Tuesday, the Senate adopted an amendment to SB 248 that deletes the public records exemption for medical emergencies or deaths. That would have effectively blocked public release of police brutality incidents, the worst provision. Critics prevailed with obvious objections.
The smartphone video of the white police officer in South Carolina firing his weapon at a black motorist in the back while he was attempting to flee from a minor traffic stop proves the value of unbiased information. Especially after the officer is seen apparently tampering with evidence and staging the death scene.
Just days ago, a media helicopter video showed California sheriff’s deputies pummeling a suspected horse thief while he lay face down on the ground with his hands behind his back. Without that compelling evidence, would officers face consequences?
Law enforcement agencies should not have overly broad power in the determination of which body camera videos can be released. That defeats the very purpose of Florida’s public records law.
That said, there are reasonable exclusions in the legislation, including videos with juveniles and children, sexual assault and abuse victims, and police informants. All merit some protection. An exception would be juveniles implicated in serious crimes.
But even in many of these circumstances, technology exists to blur out identities and personal information, such as a home address.
The Senate should scrap this flawed legislation as opening the door to secrecy and abuse with its ambiguous and discretionary provisions. As written, this serves to foment distrust of law enforcement, not build public confidence.
This is also a misguided attack on the state’s public records law. Transparency and trust are best achieved with greater openness, not less.
Original article here.