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If police are wearing body cams, when should the videos be public?

On Behalf of | Mar 21, 2023 | Freedom Of Information

In 2020, New Mexico passed laws requiring all state and local law enforcement officers, except tribal officers, to wear body cameras. One of the main purposes of the law was to make a record when officers use force so that any wrongful use of force can be addressed.

Now, the Roundhouse is considering just when body camera videos should be made public. If they aren’t made public, citizens can’t really know what is going on with their police force. That makes it hard to hold the police accountable when they violate people’s rights.

At the same time, the people filmed by police body cams may have some expectation of privacy. Would you want your worst day going viral on YouTube?

There are a wide variety of concerns about what could happen if police body cam videos became widely available. Some private businesses who have contracts with the police fear sensitive information those contracts could be exposed. Some police groups don’t want confidential police tactics or sources to be outed. Some worry the videos could reveal intimate areas of the body. Others are concerned that families might learn a loved one has died by watching a police video.

New bill purports to place reasonable limitations on public access

Recently, the state House of Representatives passed a bill that would limit the public’s right to access videos when they show nudity, violence, injury, death or some other sensitive subjects.

For example, videos showing an act of extreme violence, an injury or a death, the video could be withheld from the public unless an on-duty officer “is reasonably alleged or suspected to have caused the great bodily harm,” according to the Associated Press.

That may seem reasonable at first glance. However, it is important to remember that in several recent cases where third-party videos showed clear evidence of excessive force, the police reports did not reflect any doubt about the propriety of that force.

When witnesses claim an officer caused someone’s injury or death but the police report denies that, will the video be released? Or will law enforcement argue that there was no “reasonable” allegation?

The bill, which now goes to the state senate, is said to contain a “long list” of other times when body cam video would not be released to the public.

Separate bill would reduce penalties for negligently destroying video evidence

A separate proposal that has already passed the senate would remove a presumption that officers who fail to comply with body camera rules have acted in bad faith. It would also reduce the penalty for negligence that results in body cam video being ruined or deleted.