The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing at 10 a.m Monday, Oct. 19, to discuss several criminal justice issues, including the use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement.
Many law enforcement agencies across the country are moving toward the use of body cameras as a way to improve policing and accountability after a series of high-profile incidents in which police were perceived to have used excessive force in dealing with suspects. Also, the federal government has begun to fund body-worn cameras at the local level through federal grants.
But the use of body cams has raised several questions concerning disclosure of video under public records laws, citizen privacy, the cost of storage and redaction, police discretion in turning on and off the recording devices and retention periods. Some police departments have already adopted or are testing practices regarding community transparency, the most notable being the Seattle Police Department which posts all of its body camera video on its YouTube channel with an automatic identity-blurring tool. (See Geekwire: The future of police video – Inside the Seattle PD’s workshop on wearable cameras.)
Body camera legislation was filed in several states last year and 10 adopted new laws regarding public access to body cam footage. (See map by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press).
Tennessee opted to wait and shelved a bill filed by state Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, and state Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, until the issue could be studied further over the summer. Those bills as introduced (S.B. 868 / H.B. 712) required use of body cameras funded by federal or other grants. The bill also made the video confidential until after any criminal case in which the video was relevant was over.
The Senate Judiciary Committee which is studying the issue is chaired by state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. Kyle is on the committee. Those who are scheduled to speak on the body cameras at the upcoming meeting include Andrew Grayson, national director of Taser, Inc. (a vendor of body cameras), Lt. Aaron Yarnell with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Chief David Rausch, president of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, Deputy Chief Jim Harvey with the Memphis Police Department, Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-Tennessee, Deborah Fisher, executive director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and Richard H. Hollow, legal counsel for Tennessee Press Association.