Some police departments in Minnesota are already equipped with body cameras. More departments are now likely to adopt them after Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton recently signed a bill into law that sets regulations for the cameras’ use effective August 1, 2016. In the wake of recent officer-involved shootings, such as Michael Brown in Ferguson and Jamar Clark in Minneapolis, the call for police body cameras grew louder among both law enforcement and civil rights groups. The main issue for Minnesota legislators was not whether police body cameras should be used, but rather how the video may be used.
Under Minnesota’s new law not all police body camera footage will be accessible to the general public. Rather, footage will only be publicly available if the officer causes someone substantial bodily harm. However, attorneys (both prosecution and defense) will be able to access footage as part of a criminal case. And any person featured in body camera footage may choose to make it public, but only after any active investigation is complete and after others in the video (non-officers) have an opportunity to blur their image. However, police may censor portions of the footage that is “clearly offensive to common sensibilities” before making it public. Additionally, every law enforcement agency will be required to publicly post their written body camera policies, which allowed previous public comment.
So what does this all mean? More police departments will be getting body cameras for their officers. More police interactions will be recorded, which means there will be more objective evidence in criminal cases and police misconduct claims. The general idea is to add more transparency and accountability to police dealings with the public. But not all footage will be public. And not all public footage will be uncensored.