RTDNA opposes Utah police video bills

February 22, 2016 11:00

A pair of bills making their way through the Utah legislature would keep virtually all police body cam video private, and exempt from public records laws.

As it has in other states, RTDNA opposes such legislation, because the exemptions would take away one of the principal reasons for wearing body cameras in the first place: to provide accountability for actions police take on behalf of the public in the performance of their duties. In particular, the Utah House bill (H.B. 300) would exempt any video recorded inside a home, and the Senate bill (S.B. 94) would make private any video that included police use of force.

In letters to the bills' sponsors in both chambers of the Utah legislature, RTDNA argues that existing provisions in the state's Government Records Access and Management Act, including protections for personal privacy, medical information and law enforcement investigative interests are adequate, without the need for the undue restrictions contained in the bills.

The full letters are below:
 
February 22, 2016
 
Representative Daniel McCay
Utah House of Representatives
State Capitol
Salt Lake City, Utah
 
Dear Representative McCay:
 
On behalf of the Radio Television Digital News Association, the nation’s largest professional association representing electronic journalists in Utah and throughout the nation, I am writing you to register our serious objections to House Bill 300.
 
We join other journalism organizations such as the Utah Media Coalition and the Utah Press Association in our deep concern that passage of your bill would be a significant detriment to public accountability by allowing police agencies to conceal body cam video taken in private residences or in certain other circumstances.   This directly contradicts one of the key purposes of such video—transparency and protection of the rights of those involved, both the police and the public. 
 
RTDNA has long held the position that body cam video should be considered part of the public record—not unlike incident reports, 9-1-1 recordings and arrest records.  Further, we believe the existing exceptions currently provided through the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) provide adequate safeguards of personal privacy rights without the need for additional legislation such as H.B. 300.
 
As police body cam video use has expanded, the public transparency and accountability has also grown.  But these safeguards are significantly damaged if the public is not given the right to assess the activities of the police agencies who use them.  When full disclosure is permitted, the actions of all involved can be evaluated and protection of everyone’s rights, including police officers themselves, can be better assured.
 
With more than 80 exceptions to records disclosure—at least a dozen of which could apply to body cam video—GRAMA currently provides for many of the privacy protections sought through H.B. 300.   RTDNA believes passage of this law creates bad public policy and we strongly urge you and your colleagues to reconsider this bill.

Sincerely,

Mike Cavender
Executive Director, RTDNA
 
February 22, 2016
 
Senator Daniel Thatcher
Utah State Senate
State Capitol
Salt Lake City, Utah
 
Dear Senator Thatcher:
 
On behalf of the Radio Television Digital News Association, the nation’s largest professional association representing electronic journalists in Utah and throughout the nation, I am writing you to strongly object to Senate Bill 94.
 
We join other journalism organizations such as the Utah Media Coalition and the Utah Press Association in our deep concern that, as presently written, the bill eliminates significant public accountability by allowing government to conceal police body cam video recordings, essentially at will.  This would defeat the very purpose of such video—that being the transparency of police actions.  S.B 94 is even more stringent than a companion bill in the Utah House (H.B. 300) in that video taken on both public and private property could be withheld from public review.
 
RTDNA agrees with the contention that body cam video should, presumptively, be considered public record subject to the existing exceptions provided by the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA.)  We believe GRAMA provides for adequate safeguards relative to personal privacy interests.
 
The expanding use of police body cam video is a significant step forward in terms of transparency and public accountability.  It provides protections for both citizens and law enforcement officers.  But inherent in those protections is the ability for the public to view and assess the actions and activities which took place during a particular incident.   If the public does not have that right—one of the fundamental reasons for using the technology is eliminated. 
 
With more than 80 exceptions to records disclosure—at least a dozen of which potentially apply to body cam video—GRAMA currently provides for much of the privacy protections sought through S.B. 94.  RTDNA believes the passage of this law creates bad public policy and we urge you and your colleagues to reconsider moving it forward.

Sincerely,

Mike Cavender
Executive Director, RTDNA