So the state Legislature went back into session this week, and that means a steady stream of news over the next few months about new bills that may or may not improve our lives. One of the earliest out of the gate is House Bill 1738, which deals with police body cameras–a subject near and dear to our hearts.
The Maui Police Department flirted with body cameras last year, and even fielded a small number of cameras as part of a test, but hasn’t yet committed to the technology. The Kauai Police Department, to the consternation of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO, which like most police unions, isn’t a fan of the cameras), is fielding body cameras right now.
The cameras have great potential to increase accountability of cops, but could also cause considerable damage to civil liberties. State Rep. Matthew LoPresti, D–Ewa Beach (the lawmaker who first introduced HB 1738) is hopeful about the former, but seems justifiably concerned about the latter.
“In this age of social media and ubiquitous technology, the individual’s right to privacy has been assaulted on nearly every front, and we are finding that our laws have either become outdated or fail to even address 21st century privacy issues,” LoPresti said in a Jan. 20 House of Representatives news release. “[B]ody cameras have the potential of denying ordinary citizens their right to privacy and being abused in unintended ways,” “We have to guard against such invasions of privacy, even at the expense of convenience and other efficiencies.”
LoPresti’s bill–which was introduced by 16 other lawmakers, including Maui County Representatives Joe Souki, Lynn DeCoite, Kyle Yamashita and Kaniela Ing–includes a variety of mandates concerning police cameras:
- Officers must wear cameras in visible places on their person.
- Officers must turn on the camera whenever he or she “responds to a call for service” and/or “at the initiation of any law enforcement or investigative encounter between a law enforcement officer and a member of the public.”
- “The body camera shall not be deactivated until the call for service or encounter has fully concluded and the law enforcement officer leaves the scene.”
- Officers must “notify the subjects of the video footage” that they’re being filmed.
Further, the bill requires police agencies to store all body camera footage for at least six months, and in the case of footage of that includes a use of force, anything related to a felony-level case or anything that’s the subject of a complaint, at least three years.
This all sounds great. What isn’t great is that we could find nothing in the bill requiring police departments to make body camera footage public, which greatly diminishes its use in keeping cops accountable.
Click here for our 2015 primer on law enforcement body cameras.
Photo courtesy Maui Police Department