MN officials reject call to limit police body camera data

Docking the body camera
Duluth police officer Dan Merseth demonstrates the docking procedure for police body cameras at police headquarters.
Jim Mone | AP file

State officials on Monday turned down a request to declare police body camera footage private in most instances, leaving the controversial issue for lawmakers to decide.

More than a dozen cities had petitioned the Minnesota Department of Administration to let their police departments limit the public disclosure of video footage collected by police officers who wear the small cameras as they interact with the public. Under current law, with a few exceptions, once an investigation is complete, anyone can request and receive the documentation from a case including body camera video.

Police officials had sought the administration department's blessing to keep private video tied to medical or police calls responding to someone in a mental health crisis, said Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell.

Minnesota officials, however, rejected a privacy request last winter and said it was an issue better suited for state lawmakers. They did the same again on Monday.

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"The application clearly demonstrates both the national and statewide significance of these issues, ones that can only be fully addressed through the legislative process," Administration Commissioner Matthew Massman wrote to the departments on Monday as he rejected the petition.

Police will turn to the Legislature when it convenes in 2016, Schnell said. "We're hopeful that in this session we can move things forward. This is an important issue for policing around the country."

Schnell said he and others are concerned that having that information available to the public could have a "chilling effect" on citizens' willingness to contact authorities.

"We also don't want somebody to ultimately come in and use this data ... to begin just posting body camera video on YouTube or using it to bully or pressure people," Schnell added.