“Police Can’t Police Police” – Proposed Body Cam Law Draws Criticism

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Dianne Binns knows a lot about police misconduct and the policing end of the justice system. She’s been a parole officer and is on the St. Paul Civilian Police Review Board. She is concerned that if police are given discretion on when to turn on and off body cams there will be more opportunity for police misconduct.

A Minnesota House bill that would regulate police body cams is “not the dream bill,” she and other police watchdogs would want, “but it’s the best bill I’ve seen so far.”

Binns’ told a Minnesota legislative hearing that the House bill still lacks “concrete policies that define when those cameras go on and what kind of situations they go on in.” She says the cameras should always be on whenever police may be in a situation that becomes confrontational. That includes enforcement actions, arrests, stops and frisks. From her experience on the review board, Binns knows those are the situations where things can get out of hand and unarmed people, particularly African Americans, are killed by police.

Because those encounters between police and civilians are not recorded on video and released to the public, Binns says the African American community “fills in the dots” themselves.

“You Might Be Dead”

“There are those of us in the community who believe when we encounter law enforcement and it gets to be adversarial, there are three steps that are taken,” Binns said. The first step is the stop. Second “if you’re lucky” is “some verbal prompts.” “And then there’s number three. You could end up in some kind of situation where you might be dead.”

“That is the reality we have been facing.”

“That is why we wanted the body cams for transparency and also for accountability.”

Binns says if police are allowed to decide what video can be recorded or released that’s a problem for both transparency and accountability.

“Police can’t police police,” Binns told the committee. “You can’t police yourself.”

“There needs to be some mechanism in place where if you’re going to redact information,” said Binns. Police officers and supervisors might do a good job but “it don’t look transparent.”

Binns likes the part of the bill that prevents police officers from reviewing video before they write their report because it keeps the officer’s perception separate from what the video sees. A Senate bill authored by Senator Ron Latz doesn’t include that provision. Latz’ bill was approved by the Senate but not the House.

Several Minnesota Police departments have tried to classify all body cam data as private, but a state agency ruled that the data is already public.

Video above: Dianne Binns testifies to committee
Video below: Video of the entire hearing.

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

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