State Law Raises Questions About Use of Police Body Camera Debate

Supporters and critics of body cameras on police want to get the big picture on the issue before committing to their use. As Time Warner Cable News reporter Jamiese Price shares, one particular state law adds a new dimension to debate.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The plan for Rochester police officers to wear body cameras  is moving through the planning stages.  The mayor's budget allocates $2 million for about 480 cameras.

Proposals for vendors were submitted this summer. Those in favor say body cameras increase transparency and can help resolve complaints.

“Having a body cam could be good. I think it can be a benefit for everybody it might have some downfalls, but they’ll have to address those issues as they come,“ said one proponent at a pubic forum in Rochester.

The policy and guidelines associated with body cameras and how they'll be used by the Rochester Police Department are still unclear. How will the footage be stored and who will have access to the video?

Robert Freeman with the state’s Open Government Committee oversees and advises the government and public on Personal Privacy Protection Laws

The New York State Civil Rights Law section 50 -- a permits law enforcement officers refusal to disclose “personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion.” Video obtained from body cameras could qualify for that use.

“The result of that law is that if for example police are reprimanded, if that person has been found to engage in misconduct the record isn’t public. Generally speaking all other public employees that record would be available to the public,” said Freeman.

During a public meeting on Wednesday, he spelled out his concerns.

“There will be numerous issues that people have thought about involving the use of body cams. The cost of storage and the time to review should someone make a request. What’s public, what’s not? Will disclosure interfere with an investigation?  Will disclosure result in an invasion of someone’s privacy? Will the tape be used to evaluate a police officer’s performance,” said Freeman.

Those at Wednesday’s meeting in Rochester had concerns as well.

"I think that  video footage of a police officer’s body camera could be used to evaluate that police officer’s actions and the law clearly states that anything that  can be used to elevate an officer’s action doesn’t have to be disclosed by Freedom of Information Laws. I personally don’t have very high hopes that body cameras given the scope of New York State law are going to really do a good job of increasing transparency," said Jeremy Coloeman of Rochester.

Freeman and Coleman both want the law in question to be either abolished or modified. Representatives with the police union were not available for comment. 

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