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As police body camera technology begins to take hold in Hawaii, state Rep. Matt LoPresti wants to place rules on how the recordings should be stored and on who gets to watch them.
LoPresti plans to introduce body camera legislation in the 2016 legislative session, he said Wednesday at a press conference in the Capital rotunda.
He also discussed other privacy measures that he’s pushing, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, to protect student and employer privacy.
LoPresti said his body camera bill aims to protect both citizens and police officers by placing restrictions on when the technology could be turned on, how long videos could be stored and who would get access to the recordings.
“If you’re recorded in an interaction with the police you should have a say if that data’s released or not,” LoPresti said. “It shouldn’t just be on the 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock news.”
LoPresti’s bill would require police officers to turn on their cameras when responding to a request for service or when approaching a member of the public during an investigative encounter, such as a traffic stop, so long as it is not impossible or dangerous to do so because of a threat to the officer’s life or safety.
Everything else would be situational. The bill would require police officers to let people know when they’re being recorded and to ask for permission to turn on their cameras inside a private residence during nonemergency situations.
The bill calls for police to get permission from victims of crime to record an interaction. Similarly, officers would be allowed to turn off their cameras when speaking with someone who wants to report a crime anonymously. The cameras could not be used on public or private school grounds unless officers were responding to “an imminent threat to life or health.”
But LoPresti said his bill protects the rights of police officers as well. He said camera footage should not be used by a superior officer to go on fishing expeditions for possible misconduct or to snoop on private conversations.
The bill calls for all footage to be deleted after six months unless it has evidentiary value, such as in use-of-force cases or arrests for felony crimes. In those instances, the video should be kept for a minimum of three years.
LoPresti’s bill also would exempt certain video recordings from the state’s public records law, including anything that’s captured that is not subject to the minimum three-year storage requirement. That would include any encounters involving a misdemeanor.
Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest Executive Director Brian Black said he’s still evaluating LoPresti’s bill, but noted that it’s timely issue that’s well worth the discussion at the Legislature.
Black is an expert on public access to records and Hawaii’s open government laws. He said LoPresti’s bill, if signed into law, would keep most body camera footage locked up and out of public view.
“The breadth of the exemptions is troubling,” Black said. “This is geared toward only releasing use of force and felony information, but virtually nothing else.”
For instance, someone making a complaint against the police could choose to have their video kept confidential. And even if a video included an instance of police use of force, it would still be subject to the myriad exemptions in the state’s public records law.
Videos also could be withheld from the public if they were determined to contain evidentiary information.
The Kauai Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in the state currently using body cameras.
At this point it’s unclear how the state’s police union and various police departments will react to LoPresti’s bill in the coming session.
The Kauai Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in the state currently using body cameras. Its body camera policy already addresses many of the concerns LoPresti raised during his press conference.
But the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers has said that any use of body cameras should be negotiated between the union and the police departments.
LoPresti’s other bills on privacy concerns include one that would prevent employers from forcing employees to give them access to personal social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook.
His other bill would restrict what data could be collected from students who use school devices and whose data is stored on school servers.
Read LoPresti’s body camera bill here: