Missouri media and civil liberties groups have spoken out against a Senate bill that would keep public eyes off of police body and dashboard cameras, but police organizations say they support the bill for financial and public privacy reasons.
Attorney General Chris Koster recommended the legislature restrict public access to videos from police body cameras to protect the privacy of Missourians who appear or whose property appears in footage.
Under a bill offered by Senator Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff), the public would not be able to see police videos and the state could not require police to wear cameras or attach them to vehicles.
Missouri Police Chiefs’ Association executive director Sheldon Lineback says his group backs the bill, but not because they don’t support body cameras.
“The issue is financial,” Lineback testified, speaking of the cost not only to purchase the cameras, but to store the digital data they would generate. “There’s no funds available through homeland security funds, no funds available through block grants, and most departments just cannot afford it.”
He also cited the privacy concerns touched on by Koster.
“What we have been seeing from around the United States is these videos being taken … by individuals and put on YouTube,” said Lineback. “That’s a concern for law enforcement. That’s a concern for our job to protect and serve. Those individuals, when they’ve made mistakes … you put it on YouTube and once it’s on the internet it never comes off the internet.”
Missouri Press Association executive director Doug Crews says Missouri does not need a new law to make police videos unavailable to the public.
“Already in existing law, in the sunshine law, there’s instances that’s spelled out where law enforcement records that could be used to protect body cam data that legitimately should not be open to the public,” said Crews.
He and others testified that public access to the videos can benefit both the police and citizens and can answer questions about controversial situations.
“Refusing to release records can only lead to mistrust in law enforcement and a belief that something’s being hidden,” said Crews.
The bill has not been voted on.