A bill outlining how law enforcement should treat open records requests for video collected by officers’ body cameras has stalled in the state Senate.
SB50 received unanimous, bipartisan support from both the Joint Legislative Council and the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, but it needs more advocates to reach the Senate floor. Local legislators have many other priorities and constituent concerns to consider, but we urge them not to forget this one.
The public should have access to body camera video, and SB50 would ensure it does without infringing on the privacy of minors and certain crime victims.
Even some of the most strident transparency advocates don’t want to expose the identities of, for example, sexual assault victims, and SB50 would maintain law enforcement’s right to redact any images or audio that would violate the privacy of these victims.
SB50 protects the integrity of the state’s Open Records Law by maintaining the presumption that most government records should be accessible to the public, with some exceptions.
SB50 is superior to a previous proposal to require law enforcement to obtain permission from people who appear in body camera video before releasing it. The proposal would have swamped law enforcement with paperwork while undermining the state’s long-time commitment to transparency.
Local law enforcement is well aware of the horror stories of officers accused of shooting a civilian, and during these controversial moments, departments need the ability to quickly release video. Often, body camera video proves an officer shooting was justified and quickly dispels rumors concerning either an officer’s or suspect’s conduct.
Fortunately for Janesville residents, their police department has made transparency a top priority. On occasions when an officer has been accused of wrongdoing, the department has been quick to provide video or documents shedding light on the issue in question.
Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore told The Gazette he has read SB50 and supports it. In fact, he said, his department already follows many of the policies outlined in the bill. “It really won’t have much effect on us,” he said. “For the most part, we’re following SB50.”
That’s great, but not every law enforcement agency in the region has readily cooperated with The Gazette’s record requests, and so SB50 is needed to ensure all agencies are following the same rules. If signed into law, it would give law enforcement, media organizations and the public clarity on how requests for video should be handled.
If there’s a compelling reason to prevent this bill from reaching the Senate floor, we haven’t heard it. On the contrary, all signs indicate this bill would pass easily. Legislators, please schedule a vote on SB50.