Minnesota Law Enforcement & Lobbyists Neuter Police Oversight & Accountability

Minnesota Law Enforcement & Lobbyists Neuter Police Oversight & Accountability

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Ambitious attempts by Minnesota law enforcement to improve community trust, transparency, and accountability with the use of body cameras took a turn for the worse. Law enforcement agencies and special interest groups aggressively lobbied legislators – turning the bill into a hard to trust, much less transparent, and minimally accountable piece of legislation.

Last week the Senate passed their body camera bill. In the House, there are scheduled hearings for that version which is similar. The hearings will take place Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. in Room 5 of the State Office Building (Civil Law and Data Practice Committee chaired by Rep. Peggy Scott). On Wednesday, the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee chaired by Rep. Tony Cornish (GOP) will meet in the basement of the State Office Building after the regular session adjourns.

Lobbyists and lawyers from the Minnesota Police Chiefs Association, League of Minnesota Cities, Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, along with others from similar special interest groups have been putting on great pressure to pass their “owned” bill.

The legislation allows for secrecy of documented police behavior on public streets. It sets up barriers for subjects and the general public to gain access to body camera videos. Even with already limited footage allowed to the general public, the legislation would allow agencies with broad discretionary power not to release footage. No specific consent or notice to film you and your abode when agents of government enter in non-emergency situations with digitally enhanced cameras. These are just a few of the goodies these law enforcement interest groups would be granted up adoption of this proposed legislation.

As top cop lobbyist, Dennis Flaherty states in public testimony last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the use of body cameras is a “new paradigm” which can make officers “more accountable and transparent to the public we serve.” In the same testimony he states “making data public really serves no public purpose.” Full audio of that meeting.

It is clear that the Minnesota Police Chiefs Association are coordinating with the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. Their strategy has been to promise transparency and accountability with use of body cameras, but then undercut any action – basically talking out of both sides of their mouths. Nothing new. Have seen it many times. Are legislators really going to buy into these efforts by the special interests of law enforcement without knowing the full ramifications and consequences of these unique bills?

This is the first attempt in 35 years to mass a major shift of police information that have been public and classify it all as secret at the Minnesota Legislature with hardly any policymakers asking the tough questions. I asked Rep. Cornish when the bill was introduced last year about if he would be open to changes. The die was already cast with him telling me whatever the cops want that is what it will be.

I was hoping for changing the culture of how law enforcement works in Minnesota with greater oversight, community trust, accountability and transparency with body cameras. It instead has turned into another investigative and surveillance tool.

It is important that any body camera law not be used to shield a policeman’s nightstick, gun, or power and be used in secret without accountability and transparency. The body camera issue is complex and the legislation needs to be looked at in detail. This has not happened.

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