State suggests when body cam video can be private
ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota official last month ruled that he has no authority to allow police body camera videos to be private, but this month his department released guidance showing some of it can, indeed, be kept from the public.
ST. PAUL - A Minnesota official last month ruled that he has no authority to allow police body camera videos to be private, but this month his department released guidance showing some of it can, indeed, be kept from the public.
A division of the state Administration Department gave examples of video that can, or must, be private, including scenes that would reveal identities of sex crime victims, domestic abuse victims, undercover police and informants. Some witnesses also cannot be identified, the Information Policy Analysis Division advised.
In many cases, part of a video would remain public, the division’s report says, while anything that would identify protected people would need to be eliminated.
Parts of videos involved in an active investigation must be kept private.
The state’s guidance is a continuation of a controversial topic: How much of the video collected by small body cams the public should be allowed to see.
The Legislature could not agree on a law on the subject earlier this year, but lawmakers are expected to consider the issue when they return to St. Paul next March.
As more police departments obtain the cameras, cities across the state asked Administration Commissioner Matt Massman to declare most of the video private, which would prevent their release.
Massman ruled that state law requires most of the video to be public, and since there is a law in place he has no authority to decide otherwise.
“The commissioner of Administration has only limited authority ...” Massman wrote in his decision.
In his late-September decision, Massman left the decision to legislators and his boss, Gov. Mark Dayton.
Massman agreed with
police, who argued that body cameras can provide more detailed information than written reports that may be public.
Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell told Massman in a letter that if the videos were required to be public “this technology has the potential to undermine the very nature of the relationships law enforcement as a profession is working to develop with the communities they serve.”
In the information division’s guidance, much of the emphasis is on hiding identities of some people.
“When a law enforcement agency receives a data practices request, the agency must review the body cam data and make decisions about how to redact data prior to providing public access on a case-by-case basis,” the guidance says. “Although a data subject in a body cam video has access to private data about him-herself and can share the video as the subject deems appropriate, law enforcement is obligated to review the video prior to release and make decisions about potentially redacting data about other subjects in the video.”
Police say that examining and editing the video is expensive and time consuming. Public-information advocates say body cam video should be released to Minnesotans can evaluate law enforcement officers’ performance.
The guidance is advice and not legally binding.