Police body camera law must build public trust
The national debate about federal agency surveillance of American citizens is about privacy but it is moreover about trust of government and its accountability to its bosses, the public.
The federal government is so large and its nerve center so removed daily life as to make it almost abstract, an entity whose intentions are far less clear than the documents that guide and historically define this country.
Will your government spy on you and use the information maliciously or, maybe more likely, just let it fall into the wrong hands? That’s the question.
The closer government becomes, the easier it is to continue the bonds of trust with the public. A case in point is police body cameras.
Though Lake Havasu City police were among the first in the nation to fully deploy body cams, as they are known, the state of Arizona has been unable to decide on policies for their use.
A bill that nearly made it through the Legislature authorized police agencies to use the body cameras but then set restrictions on the viewing, erasing and preserving of the recordings. It also categorically declared that the videos were not a public record. Thankfully, that bill was amended to kick the topic down the road and instead set up a study committee. The committee, which apparently has yet to be formed, is due to report its recommendations just before the next Legislature opens.
In Lake Havasu City, police body cam use has been a pretty successful experiment. It has at times supported police version of events when someone has been hurt or killed.
It is hugely important that the recordings made by the body cams remain public record in the same manner than other police reports are viewable by the public. It adds to trust and accountability. Among the many states either recently approving or considering body cam laws, Florida has one that appears balanced. It establishes who, including suspects, can see the recordings. It makes them public record with the exceptions of videos shot in areas considered private, such as homes and medical facilities. It also sets up a process for judicial review for specific requests.
These measures have many stakeholders. Any Arizona law on the topic deserves thoughtful examination. With the year nearly half gone, we hope the study committee gets to work soon, creating the groundwork needed before special interests cobble something together and ram it into law.