Despite some public clamor, the State Legislature passed a revised police body camera bill last week. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill into law Tuesday morning.
Much of the criticism of the bill comes from its language, which some say favors law enforcement agencies. Others, however, believe the bill will help transparency.
According to the bill, body camera recordings can only be made public if a firearm is discharged or if the use of police force results in substantial bodily harm. Further, law enforcement agencies would be authorized to withhold footage if it is deemed “offensive to common sensibilities.”
These provisions have left some divided.
“We’ve literally been given a tool to hold officers accountable, which is what this country has been asking for for over a year and a half, and we have left it up to the officers that are being told to be held accountable to write the accountability measures,” said Mica Grimm, a founder of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis.
Grimm said she is troubled by the strict guidelines of the bill because it lets officers get away with minor misconducts that don’t result in substantial bodily harm.
“There’s not much accountability in this bill, there’s not … very many ways that people can view the data, view videos,” she said.
Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, was also concerned about the lack of police accountability.
“There’s no question that this was the brainchild of the law enforcement lobby, and this was their baby and they were going to try to do their best to make it happen,” Gross said.
By limiting public accessibility, Gross said there won’t be a way to know whether racial profiling occurs.
“It’s not a single incident,” she said. “People will say, ‘I feel like I was racially profiled,’ and that might very well be the case, but you can’t prove racial profiling without examining a pattern of conduct.”
But Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who co-authored the bill, said he believes his bill will make officers more accountable while upholding privacy.
“First of all, when police know that they are being recorded, that’s a good incentive to behave more carefully,” Latz said.
Michelle Phelps, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, said preliminary studies have supported the idea that incidents decrease when officers know they’re being filmed.
“I think a lot of the groups looking for more accountability among the police are hoping that body cameras are a way in which to increase trust in police … by sort of having a watchman over the police through this digital technology,” she said.
Even so, Phelps said there isn’t a simple technological solution to establish trust between police and the community.
“As you can see in all the negotiations about the details of the bill, the only way the technology will help is if we trust police forces enough to manage that data,” she said.
Because the bill has undergone revision, Latz said he thinks it’s unfair for people to say it favors law enforcement.
“If you look at the bill as it was originally introduced, it was much different, much more weighted toward … the law enforcement perspective … than where we ended up several iterations later,” he said.
However, Grimm said she still doesn’t think the bill serves its intended purpose.
“Saying that you passed a body camera law sounds progressive if no one knows what’s in it,” she said. “It’s a conservative bill with a liberal title.”