The measure, supported by Seattle Police Department, sets rules on what body-camera footage is presumed to be private under the Public Records Act; sets up a task force to examine best practices for their use; and encourages police agencies that plan to use the cameras to adopt policies related to their use.
OLYMPIA — The Senate on Friday passed a bill that limits broad requests for police body-camera videos while keeping key footage available to the public.
The chamber passed House Bill 2362 on a 37-9 vote. But because it was amended on the floor, it now heads back to the House for concurrence.
The measure sets rules on what body-camera footage is presumed to be private under the Public Records Act; sets up a task force to examine best practices for their use; and encourages police agencies that plan to use the cameras to adopt policies related to their use.
Under the bill, certain videos would be presumptively private, such as footage that shows a dead body, was recorded in a home or shows a minor. Such footage would be withheld unless the requester can demonstrate that the video is of legitimate public concern.
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The Senate added language to not allow the release of footage that shows a patient at a medical center for treatment. The Senate also added language that body-camera recordings would be retained for 60 days.
“Body cameras are in existence right now,” said Republican Mike Padden of Spokane Valley. “We now will have a framework for some privacy protections.”
The bill would limit broad requests for copies of the videos by requiring that the requester provide the name of a person involved in the incident, the date, time and location of the incident or the case number.
Several amendments were rejected, including one by Republican Sen. Pam Roach that sought to limit public-records requests for video unless the victim or witness on the recording requests it, law enforcement makes the request, or a court order requires it.
Roach argued that the privacy protections in the underlying bill didn’t go far enough, though she ultimately did vote for it. “When you think recordings, think YouTube,” she said.
Body-worn cameras have been touted as an important tool for police accountability, especially after a spate of shootings by officers. But concerns about the cost of handling public records requests for the videos — as well as about protecting the privacy of crime victims, witnesses and people who are captured incidentally on the videos — has hindered departments that might otherwise deploy them.
Sen. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Seattle, cited accountability concerns as the reason for her no vote. She said that while body cameras can be a useful tool, concerns still remain about how the technology may be used. “I think there’s a big potential for them to be used in a way that is oversurveilling or biased policing,” she said.