They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth ten times that. The camera doesn’t lie, and body cameras worn by police officers provide an undeniable record of the actions of law enforcement. Sometimes, that video record clearly shows police officers acting inappropriately with the application of force.
S.F. No. 498 is a bill that was recently passed by the Minnesota legislature. The legislation introduced by State Senator Ron Latz allows law enforcement officials to redact the showing of both excessive, and lethal force from the public record. The provisions the legislation contains grant law enforcement agencies the sole authority to determine what is too sensitive for public view.
Ostensibly, the legislation was intended to protect family members from the pain of watching their loved ones experience incidents of police brutality or the use of deadly force. Under current policy, law enforcement always blurs the face of the victim from recorded evidence. However, the language within the new law grants law enforcement agencies the ability to blur as much as they deem necessary from the video.
This means that important details of an officer-involved shooting, or an arrest where excessive force was used could be permanently hidden from view. The redaction of this information is nothing more than video editing that could be used to mask the truth of what occurred. This masking of truth is essentially an editing of fact and would put Minnesotans at a disadvantage when defending themselves against allegations made by law enforcement officers.
Provisions within the law allow Minnesota criminal defense lawyers to challenge the redaction of information. However, should the judge determine that the redaction is appropriate, defendants would have little recourse in getting the fully unredacted video shown to a jury of their peers or released for public view.
Governor Dayton can still veto the legislation. Should he do so, it will protect citizen’s right to transparency. Body cameras and other recording devices used by law enforcement are intended to protect the public from police brutality. By granting law enforcement agencies the right to redact evidence of excessive or lethal force, the legislation would effectively deny the public the protection cameras and other recorded evidence is intended to create.