Bill seeks limit on releasing video from police cameras

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Video footage from police officer body cameras filmed inside private residences would be exempt from public disclosure under legislation designed to begin regulating the emerging law enforcement technology.

Police body cameras

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday took public testimony on a bill that would shield most videos obtained by a police officer in a "private place" from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. It has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

"If it's not in a private place, that material is open (to disclosure)," said Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake Township, who is sponsoring the bill. "If you're walking down the street and the police catch you on video, you don't have an expectation of privacy."

Law enforcement agencies in Michigan are increasingly using tiny cameras mounted on the chests of uniformed police officers to document encounters between cops and citizens.

Civil rights leaders have pushed for mandatory use of body cameras across the country after a series of incidents involving white police officers using lethal force against black males.

Under Runestad's bill, a person who is recorded by a police officer's body camera in a private place — or their parent or legal guardian — could obtain the video. The bill also would allow disclosure of body cam videos to individuals whose property was seized or damaged in relation to a criminal investigation, Runestad said.

The bill also sets a 30-day time frame for police agencies to store routine body camera video footage. Digital video involving a criminal investigation or internal probe of a police officer's actions would have to be stored for three years, Runestad said.

The ACLU supports the legislation as part of an effort to keep the surveillance video tightly regulated, lobbyist Shelli Weisberg said.

Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, said the legislation will create a legal "minefield" for government agencies to sort out what kinds of videos can be released to the public and news media.

"This is going to be litigated for a long time (if) this bill becomes law," Heise said.

The Michigan Association of Broadcasters opposes the legislation, said Karole White, president and CEO of the group that represents the interests of television stations.

"Digital media is going to be the next great front that we're going to have to figure out because digital media is everyone who has a cellphone — in addition to the body cams," White said.

Rep. Rose Mary Robinson, D-Detroit, is sponsoring a separate bill to require that all police officers in Michigan wear a body camera. Her bill has not gained any traction in the Republican-controlled House, in part because of the large expense the state would have to pay to fulfill such a mandate.

"I'm happy to see that the conversation has begun finally on this issue of body cameras," Robinson said.

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