Thursday, December 3, 2015

"People" need to show at Legislature on body cameras

Being a member of the public influencing legislation at Minnesota Legislature, one truism stands out:  LAWS ARE MADE BY THOSE WHO SHOW UP!

When it comes to body camera use by Minnesota law enforcement, it's judicious to have agile and sharp legislation in how the cameras and the recording are used.  Questions of many for ourselves to ask can be ones like these:  Can I say no to an officer filming me in the privacy of my home?  Can the public review the the tapes to see if their is a pattern of racial bias and profiling?  Who gets to see the videos and under what situations?  How will they achieve accountability/transparency or is it just another cop tool to be used against the public in secret?

Over the past year since legislation has been introduced on body cameras, SF 498 (Senator Ron Latz) and the companion bill HF 430  (Representative Cornish) there's been several public legislative hearings on the bills.  All were in the Senate.  The House decided not to hold a hearing on HF 430.

Who appeared at the hearings to testify on the body camera bills were the Minnesota Chiefs Police Association, Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, Minnesota Newspaper Association, Minnesota Coalition on Government Information and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.  There were other interested parties on the edges such as the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Sheriffs Association.

These are all established and traditional groups with salaried lobbyists except for one.  Several are pushing for secrecy, less access to the public to body camera videos, and body cameras to be used as a surveillance and investigative tool.  Others are pushing the use of these tools for accountability and transparency.  Some are mixed.  But my point being is that there is really no grassroots community organizations "at the table" who represent people in a unique way "in the community." sharing their viewpoint on body cameras last session.

There is quite a difference of opinion between a representative of  law enforcement who compares a can of mace and a body camera as being the same (law enforcement tool) and lobbies for secrecy of  body camera videos, with the person or community who sees police behavior that is abrasive and abusive or sees and experiences racial bias and profiling.

If the general public and communities viewpoints are not heard, are they being represented by the groups above, maybe yes, maybe no.  But my educated guess on the whole they are not.....

Going back to my first point, "LAWS ARE MADE BY THOSE WHO SHOW UP"

Who shows up to the hearings to testify and to meet the policymakers to share viewpoints determines what the law will be.

So what can you, community/grassroots groups,  and individuals, do in the near future.

(1) Attend the first of many legislative committee hearings on the body camera issue.  Testify yourself or have your group do it. The first one hearing (TENTATIVELY scheduled) will be on Wednesday, December 16, 2015 in Room 200 of the State Office Building.  Tentatively for the morning. To confirm the date and time contact Senator Latz's office at 651-296-8065, or Representative Cornish's office at 296-4240.  The hearing has not been listed, but one can go to this link to find out, formally when it is.  Change of plans do happen.  Plans are for a joint committee hearing of two House Committees (Public Safety and Civil) and Senate Judiciary.

(2) Bone up on the topic of body cameras.  To help understand what is happening in Minnesota on issues of body cameras, a good start would be to the The Legislative Commission on Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy. The Commission decided to have an opportunity for parties to make comment and who provided material.  The material and the audio of the meeting are here:  (December 1, 2015 meeting).

(3) Follow through on the issue of body cameras when the Legislature convenes in March, but most important start meeting with policymakers and like minded individuals/groups to help shape the legislation.

There are parties demanding the release of any video of Jamar Clark's shooting death be public. If such a tragedy happened like that again or other kinds of abusive and abrasive behavior by law enforcement, in the future, there could be law saying the body camera video is secret to the public.

Other bad behavior by officers also would be under wraps by the legislation without the public having the opportunity to see.

A quote from Justice Arthur Goldberg states: "If law is not made more than a policeman's nightstick, American society will be destroyed."

It is important that any body camera law not be used to shield a policeman's nightstick, gun, or power to be used in secret without accountability and transparency.  The body camera issue is complex and the legislation needs to be looked at in detail.

I have written several posts on body camera issues and concerns.  These are linked here :

Monday, November 30, 2015

The promise of body cameras?

There is a history of a dual standard of law enforcement using abrasive/abusive police practices in our country and communities.  There has been report after report detailing the long history of police prejudice and bad behavior.  Social research in the field has substantiated this behavior for decades.  So what are law makers doing about it?

Out of the blue has come an idea which is advancing across the country:  body cameras.

The idea is being pushed by law enforcement as a concept to bring accountability.  But they also want to use it primarily as an investigative tool.

Many of the proponents echo what Mayor Hodges has stated in her public comments.  Hodges has said: "I am proud to support body cameras for all officers: they are an essential tool for holding officers accountable for their behavior, making corrections when necessary, and building community trust, for police officers have the potential to increase public trust in law enforcement, reduce the risk that citizens will not be victims of excessive force and protect officers from unfounded accusations of abuse."

The mayor also stated that body cameras: "bring increased accountability and transparency for both the police officers and for the public."

But these goals - which the Mayor has announced and which many in law enforcement and in the political arena support  - are being squelched by special interests or even by the same parties who say they support "transparency and accountability" at the Minnesota Legislature.The Senate proposal - which made its way to the floor as an amendment to the license plate reader bill and passed the Senate - is one which in broad terms does not allow public access to  body camera videos.  The legislation takes the current presumption of public access to police body came video and turns it upside down.  One criticism of the approach that the Minnesota Senate took is that there was not a collegial group discussion in the committee process about what privacy protections are already in current law.

Senate File 498 (the Senate body cam bill), says that data are not available to the public except in very limited situations.  I take the position that in some cases the data will be secret.  Privacy in some scenarios is another word for secrecy.  Videos collected by police would not be available to the public except in very limited situations.  For example, take the recent incident of Jamar Clark's shooting.  The standard in the current bill is if the incident involved a dangerous weapon, which was the case, and took place in a public place, which it did, the data would be public......but if the incident happened in a house, it would not be available to the public.

If body cameras are to be a tool to persuade the public that law enforcement can be trusted, accountable, and transparent, the Senate approach is the inappropriate way. To make sure that law enforcement officers and police administrators are doing their job appropriately,  public data is needed.  Proponents of the Senate bill say one just has to get consent of the individual to get access to the video.  Many people are not going to give consent for a number of reasons.  The court process laid out to gain access in the bill is just as high as the "blue wall" which many in the public perceive and believe there is.

There is power with the use of the body camera,.  Who has that power - the guidelines and rules - is what the legislation is all about.

Many actions of law enforcement would be secret under the Senate proposal.  For example, arrests, use of force, detainment, stop and frisk, and testimony.  In those cases, body cameras would become worthless tools for public accountability.

When the Duluth Police Department released body camera video of how a law enforcement officer saved an individual from suicide, I had this thought :if the Senate bill was law, there would be many videos released showing officers doing their duties well, but many others would be kept in the dark, when an officer's duties fall short.

There are issues to consider about public disclosure of body camera videos, but it is important to take the current law in consideration.  Many private situations are already addressed.  Specific concerns can be addressed, but the Senate bill did not take the made-to-measure approach. This is one significant reason among several why it is opposed by several organizations and advocates for transparency/accountability such as the The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, and the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

The Minnesota House did not move on a bill this past session.

Significant large issues need legislative addressing and discussion:

- Fourth Amendment/First Amendment issues. (consent in home/surveillance)

- Role of contractors and vendors.

- Advancement and changing of technology with body cameras. ( such as live stream, facial recognition, miniaturization)

- Use of body camera video for secondary purposes by law enforcement.

- Enforcement and compliance of policies. ( such as same standards across he state or different for each agency)

- Retention. (how long should video be kept, ie)

- When body cameras are on and off.

The list is not final, and issues will arise as discussion, information, and knowledge is gained by the public and policymakers.

It is my intent to make sure that if body cameras are to be used by Minnesota law enforcement, they are not a front for accountability which would create more distrust, and continue the legacy of decades of "tension and hostility" in the communities where law enforcement officers serve. There are grievances because of abrasive/abusive practices and behavior, "further aggravated by the lack of effective mechanism" to deal with complaints against law enforcement.  Body cameras are being proposed to be an effective mechanism for oversight.

But oversight will be hollow and vacant if the laws that regulate the power of this law enforcement tool do not provide real transparency.

Update: February 3, 2016

Since this post has been published an alternative bill (Rep. Peggy Scott) on body cameras has been a subject of a Joint-Committee hearing among the others. The draft bill is listed among the Senate version and current House bill.

Civil Law and Data Practices
House Civil Law and Data Practices, House Public Safety and Crime Prevention and Senate Judiciary Joint Hearing

Room: Room 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Peggy Scott, Rep. Tony Cornish and Sen. Ron Latz


HF430InfoCornishPortable recording system provisions added, and audio and video data captured by a law enforcement officer classified.

Informational hearing on policy related to police-worn body cameras

MG 108 (attached)

Committee Documents:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Who has power with body cameras, the cops or you?

The Minnesota Legislature is being pushed hard by law enforcement interests to make much body camera video unavailable to the public  The Senate has already passed a bill making secret a fair amount of body camera video.  Law enforcement is pushing hard for secrecy because they want to keep from the public the ability to monitor police prejudice, abusive/abrasive behavior and practices, and the dual standard of law enforcement that is in our community.  Bottom line, law enforcement does not want the public to have the power to do the oversight of accountability of law enforcement with the new tool of body cameras.

There is power with the use of body cameras, in viewing hours of body camera videos, I see how it can be used by the public to truly use as a tool to have appropriate control over conduct by police, to help eliminate of abusive and abrasive practices by cops, and to counteract the dual standard of law enforcement in our community which has permeated for years.  The videos I watched would all become secret if the Senate's version of the body camera bill becomes law.

A representative of law enforcement recently compared body cameras to cans of mace - making the point that they are both tools for police. The body camera is not just any tool, however.  It may be a tool for law enforcement, but it is also a tool for public accountability - but only if the data is available to the public.

There is power with the use of body cameras, who has that power and the rules of it is going to be front and center next legislative session.  Right now law enforcement may have an edge to have less public accountability, less transparency, and have the power with the use of body cameras, unless the public gets involved.

Personal note:
If anyone is interested to have me speak to a group, organization, or anyone on the issue of body cameras contact me: or follow me with a message on Twitter @richneumeister

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

St Paul Library destroying materials of our city's history?

Fast on the heels of the City's of St Paul recent decision to purge it's government e-mails every three months comes a new revelation: the St Paul Public Library is in the process of deciding to trash thousands upon thousands of historical newspaper clippings.

For decades, the library has maintained a "Subject Morgue File" collection.  It consists of newspaper clippings from the St Paul Pioneer Press and the St Paul Dispatch, and it dates from the first part of the twentieth century - 1910-1945.  Due to its painstaking subject-by subject file arrangement, the collection represents the only searchable repository of local news from the time period.  A collection of historical value that could be part of the St Paul Collection.

The clippings it seems were loaned to the library by the Pioneer Press to be used by researchers and interested members of the public.  For the past several years, however, the files have been kept away from public view, and now library management seems intent on destroying them permanently.

There are many questions to be asked here: Why is the library so intent on gutting, rather than preserving and displaying (St Paul Collection), this unique collection?  Are the collection of clippings, able to be wiped out if it is someone else's property?

St Paul has been considered the half of the Twin Cities that has retained its sense and appreciation of history, even as its twin to the West has continued to plow its past under.  The St Paul Library (St Paul) now tossing that sensibility to the wind by throwing more and more of its history down Orwell's "memory hole?"

There needs to be involvement by the Library Board and the public as the library makes such decisions to have such a vital source of local history disappear.  Move quickly, decision may be made at the end of the  week

Friday, October 16, 2015

St Paul ripping off public on parking meters already?

Sometimes I go to the Amsterdam Bar and Hall for a beer and fries on Friday's.  Today after I left this unique St Paul place, I noticed that people were trying to pay the meter collector on Wabasha St.  I know that parking is free in downtown after 5:00pm.  So I said it's free.  They said no, there is signage on the meter that says til 10:00pm, the public has to pay.

Lo and behold, there was new signage on the meters on the west side of Wabasha Street, for two blocks straight saying that.  My understanding is that the new rates were not going to take place til early January.  Between 6th and 5th streets there was no notice stating that the new rates do not start til January, 2016.  I saw a small yellow sheet serving as notice between 5th and 4th.  Very hard to see.

As I continued south (walking) on Wabasha, I heard a woman say "Do you have any quarters?' to a party with her.  I wonder if the parking meter collector took her quarters?  How much can the City make for the 2015 budget, with this kind of ploy?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Not use cost as reason for secrecy with body cams

In the underbelly of discussion with body cameras in Minnesota is the "it costs too much money" argument.  The bemoaning and griping of many law enforcement and local government officials can be heard before the Legislature, city councils, and other venues.  Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, has said to the Star Tribune protecting "departments from costly and time-consuming editing" from public data requests, is one reason why they support in the Legislature, HF430/SF498.  The bill makes basically all videos collected by body cameras private or not public.  In the same article, Mr. Skoogman says the bill "keeps police accountable....." I am scratching my head on that one.  How can a police department be accountable and transparent with its behavior to the public if most of the body camera video is not public to the community?

Words about cost is one of the major rationale to keep the videos secret.  In a recent application to the Commissioner of Administration to make most body camera videos secret, less accessible to the public, signed by 24 cities, uses an excuse that access to the general public will bring "exorbitant cost involved with responding to requests...."  A group of law enforcement officials and cities are trying for the second time to go around the Legislature to make data collected form the body cameras not public.

I have been told by a law enforcement official,  a major motivation to keep body camera video, not public, is the cost factor, particularly with smaller cities other than Minneapolis and St Paul.  The person described the financial pressure to review and redact the videos may cause.  Some local political subdivisions will not buy body camera systems unless there is less body camera videos available to the public, the authority commented.  Rationale for secrecy!

Under current law, a fair amount of body camera video is not available to the public.  The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act gives law enforcement ample leeway to not disclose recordings to protect ongoing investigations and individuals privacy. But many others want to go way beyond that pushing to keep videos from the public to a point gouging increased accountability and transparency.

There is a compelling need for civic accountability with law enforcement agencies.  Arguments to make body camera video not accessible to the populous based on cost is ill-advised and uncalled for.  It undermines the body camera idea to advance faith and confidence between the public and law enforcement.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

BCA does not want you to know how much they spend on spy devices


It is no secret that Minnesota law enforcement generally wants to keep hidden from the people new technology that does surveillance and monitoring of people.  Just review the past several years of this blog on matters such as Stingray, Kingfish, and to some extent license plate readers, among other topics I have written about.

 It was through data request's that I found out that at least the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), even though the data was limited, owned or operated cellular exploitative devices, such as Kingfish and Stingray.  It took the Legislature with questions that more information was given.

 But even today the public and Legislature does not know the amount taxpayers has spent or will spend on the Stingray and similar devices since 2014. (See document above, page 7,  part of BCA/Harris Corp contract)  The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has told me and the Star Tribune that having knowledge of public dollars spent would be too much info for the bad guys to know.  They have even refused to give the general amount spent.  As Drew Evans, ‎Assistant Superintendent of BCA, stated to the Star Tribune in written form:

"This would not only endanger the lives and physical safety of law enforcement officers and other individuals, but also adversely impact criminal investigations,” Evans wrote. “Disclosure of this information could result in the BCA’s inability to protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activity because, through public disclosures, this technology has been rendered essentially useless for future investigations.”

So here we have an agency that will neither tell elected officials or the public the general amount spent on devices that can intercept conversations and text messages of people with auxiliary equipment and upgrades such as the "Fishhawk: or "Porpoise", and that collects data on innocent people who may be in the area of the target.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to spurn and mock the public's and Legislature's right to know how much it spends on technology that has an acute and extreme involvement with our privacy and civil liberties only undermines the Bureau's credibility.

As I know by the Star Tribune's and my past experience in trying to get the Harris Corporation contract and FBI disclosure agreement, the credibility of BCA with me had never been at it's lowest.

Confidently, the public and legislators will begin to realize the BCA's efforts to hide the amount of public $$$ is not because of criminals and terrorists.  The Bureau does not want you to know because they do not want the accountability and inquiry, they so deeply and crucially need on matters of public dollars spent on surveillance technologies that compromise our autonomy, privacy, and civil liberties.

NOTE: This is the full agreement of the contract between the Harris Corporation and the BCA.  Also included is the FBI non-disclosure agreement.  Courtesy of the Star Tribune.