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Runestad: Police body cams good, but data policy needed

State Rep. Jim Runestad

Would you, at any given moment, allow strangers to enter your home and film its contents? Would you further agree to release this film to mass media?

Maybe you would agree to release footage of your mother or grandmother’s slip and fall for a hilarious new reality blooper show entitled “Unbalanced: Fallen and can’t get up”? In a changing world where police body cameras are the norm, these potential and unintended consequences could become a reality.

Across Michigan, law enforcement departments have begun using small clip-on body-worn cameras attached to their uniforms to record and capture every interaction with citizens throughout the day.

The data can then be loaded onto an external device for evaluation. Lansing and Detroit police departments are field-testing these devices. Eaton County and the west Michigan cities of Newaygo and Lowell have already been using them, while Grand Rapids recently purchased 200 body cameras for its police force. While there are many good reasons to use these cameras, there needs to be precautions so that footage taken on these cameras is not misused.

Currently under the Michigan law there are no restrictions on who can access the private personal information captured by law enforcement body cams. Subjects in these videos may find their private spaces and acts on the Internet.

To remedy these privacy violations I have introduced House Bill 4234 to protect Michigan residents from the release and distribution of data that is obtained in a private setting not connected with any civil or criminal event. This bill allows for law enforcement officials to use recordings in a court of law with regards to standing prosecutions and/or civil actions but limits access when people filmed are not connected to any criminal or civil case and have an expectation of privacy.

Additionally, law enforcement agencies will be required to retain potential criminal or civil case audio and video recordings shot by a body-worn camera for at least 30 days from the date of capture or until the investigation and associated legal proceedings are complete, and can be obtained for a three-year period under specific circumstances. This allows anyone who may need to request this video to do so, but doesn’t require police departments to keep non-evidentiary video to spare departments unsustainable storage costs. So pertinent data is kept in any potential action claiming or showing an officers’ wrongdoing but also can clear the overwhelming majority of officers who do a great job and uphold the law.

The Michigan State Police and the American Civil Liberties Union have both voiced their support on this issue. That those groups agree on this legislation shows that it deserves serious consideration. This bill strikes a balanced approach between privacy concerns and law enforcement concerns.

State Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents the 44th District.