Body camera bill defeats purpose

Three legislators in the Minnesota House of Representatives have proposed a bill that would prohibit access to all police body camera footage except to those whom it records. If the bill becomes law, police departments statewide would also be required to destroy any footage that is not under investigation.

The representatives — Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, and Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park — have all served as police officers. According to Schoen, the bill they proposed is designed to safeguard citizens’ privacy.

The bill’s critics, however, have observed that the purpose of body cameras is to increase the police’s public accountability. From another angle, they have also argued that Minnesota law already classifies much body camera footage, including footage that portrays minors or sexual assault victims.

Police departments in Burnsville and Duluth currently make widespread use of body cameras, and Minneapolis is in a pilot program that began in November.

We disagree with the proposal to make all police body camera footage private. At the same time, we feel that certain footage — including footage shot inside homes or at the scenes of serious traffic accidents, for example — should be kept private except to the individuals it portrays, as some footage could harm innocent people.

Because body cameras are a relatively new addition to Minnesota police forces, we also encourage the Legislature to publish a clear list of what footage is currently kept private. Hopefully this will help to alleviate any public discomfort regarding potential violations of privacy.