Bills aim to regulate police body cameras in Michigan

Associated Press

Lansing — State lawmakers are looking at how to regulate the use of body cameras by police in Michigan as more agencies across the country equip their officers with the devices.

Officers in Detroit are testing them and Grand Rapids is buying 200 body cameras.

One bill that appears to be gaining traction would prohibit the release of certain video from police body cameras, making most footage taken in places defined as private exempt from disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, said he wants to prevent embarrassing or invasive releases of footage that have occurred in other states from happening in Michigan.

He said sometimes police are called to investigate incidents where people would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in their home or car, but no criminal activity is occurring. Police called to investigate a suspected break-in might capture private details of a person’s home, for example, but there might not actually be a robbery occurring. The release of that footage could be invasive, Runestad said.

He said he’s worked with groups including the state attorney general’s office, the Michigan State Police and the American Civil Liberties Union to find bill language with a “balanced approach between privacy concerns and law enforcement concerns.”

Runestad’s bill would provide guidelines for local police that choose to use body cameras, he said.

That bill’s chances appear better than another that would require local police to use the devices.

The measure from Rep. Rose Mary Robinson, D-Detroit, would call for Michigan State Police to provide reimbursements for local police using body cameras, but it’s unclear where state police would find the money for that.

Robinson said she thinks the state could come up with the funding.

“What value does a human life have? That’s what we have to say to ourselves,” she said.

Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, and chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, said he doesn’t plan on taking up the bill for discussion any time soon. It would be difficult to mandate local use of the cameras without a funding source, he said, not to mention the local resources needed to update, monitor, repair and upgrade the cameras.

“It’s great to say that everybody should have one, but it’s a much different story when you look at the price involved and the technology behind it,” Heise said.