The Advisory Committee on Open Government (ACOG) took the first steps toward a police body camera study last week, discussing ideas for public hearings around the state and how it would develop broad input and conversation.
The 14-member group, which is appointed by the Comptroller’s Office, represents a wide range of media, government and citizen organizations and is authorized by law to provide written comment on proposed legislation regarding open records and meetings. The House State Government Committee, chaired by state Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, asked the open government committee to study the body cam issue after the committee declined to pass proposed legislation by state Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, that would limit access.
The House committee asked that law enforcement, which has members on ACOG, be included in the study. At the meeting, ACOG member and Brentwood Police Chief Jeff Hughes said that Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch would represent the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police in the study and discussions.
The Advisory Committee also decided that Rick Hollow, a First Amendment attorney and ACOG representative for the Tennessee Press Association, would meet with Rausch and ACOG’s two co-chairs, state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, and Ramsey, to discuss issues to include in a study and public hearings before returning to the full group with thoughts.
Ramsey emphasized that he was interested in broad input into the discussion, and noted a recent Tennessee poll about body camera footage. Representatives from several other law enforcement or related organizations were present and said they also wanted to be involved in the study, including the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. It was recommended that Rausch talk with representatives of all of those groups to gather their concerns, and that Hollow speak with others on ACOG and elsewhere in advance of their meeting to discuss the public hearings.
Jason Mumpower, chief of staff for the Comptroller’s Office, said the office would work to make state space available for public hearings.
TCOG’s representative on ACOG, Lucian Pera, suggested that Memphis be included in the public hearings. The city of Memphis had worked on body cam legislation during the last legislative session, and has purchased body cameras for their police department. Also, Chad Jenkins, representative for the Tennessee Municipal League, asked if the study would be limited to access issues under the public records law, which the committee appeared to affirm.
Last year, the Office of Open Records Counsel and the Advisory Committee on Open Government held hearings in Knoxville, Nashville and Jackson to gather input on proposed legislation to charge new fees to inspect public records.
Ramsey said those hearings were successful in gathering public comment and helping to provide guidance to lawmakers.