Snyder signs law limiting police bodycam video release

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday signed legislation that the Michigan Press Association says could nearly quash open records requests for police body camera footage.

An attorney from the association said the bill has the potential to shield police bodycam videos from public disclosure because of a strict time limit for requesting that law enforcement offices retain footage. But supporters said the bill — now law — protects crime victims’ privacy.

Snyder’s office said Wednesday it “establishes guidelines and procedures for law enforcement officers wearing body-worn cameras.” The bill was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and other groups representing law enforcement.

“It represents a balance between the needs and rights of the public and press for transparency and access to the truth in citizen encounters with the police, and the privacy rights of individuals who may be included in the footage of police body cameras,” said Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton.

But opponents view it as a potential roadblock to unearthing the truth of a particular crime scene.

“We’re still not supportive of it. We feel like these are records that should be available to some extent as long as personal privacy is protected and we don’t feel that the bill allows for that. These are publicly paid for records,” said Lisa McGraw, the Press Association’s director.

The legislation shields from open records requests body camera footage taken in private settings, such as inside of someone’s home.

Supporters say it protects privacy rights by ensuring websites don’t publish sensitive information that crime victims don’t want disclosed.

For example, bill backers said they want to stop potential YouTube mash-ups of elderly people falling down in their homes — footage that might have been obtained if not for the legislation.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, the Michigan State Police, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence all backed the bill.

About 50 law enforcement agencies in Michigan use bodycams, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis of the bill. State police, Detroit police and the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department are among them.

Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, has said any videos or audio recorded by officers in public would still be subject to open records requests, but McGraw said the bill might make it impossible to obtain that footage unless it was freely given by the crime victim or a lawyer.

The association’s attorney, Robin Luce-Herrmann, previously said videos from public settings like highways or sidewalks would still be accessible through such records requests. But she voiced concern that a narrow time limit to request that footage be retained might mean much of it could go undisclosed.

Such footage can be useful in determining court cases or lead to new insight into polarizing crime situations such as police shootings involving white officers and black citizens.

Police departments would keep bodycam footage for at least 30 days if it contains audio and video of an arrest, crime, citation or use of force or confrontation, according to the bill. Footage could be kept for up to three years if a complaint is filed.