Nearly Two Years After Michael Brown's Death, Missouri May Block Access to Police Footage

Missouri lawmakers have approved a bill that blocks the release of footage from officer-mounted cameras until after an investigation is complete.
May 11, 2016, 3:48pm
Photo by Bernd Weissbrod/AP

Missouri lawmakers passed a bill restricting public access to police camera footage on Tuesday, nearly two years after a white police officer shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown in a St. Louis suburb, sparking protests and a nationwide movement that called for more police accountability.

In the wake of the shooting, some state and local police departments have expanded the use of officer-mounted cameras and even set up channels to regularly release footage, but Missouri's state legislature has opted to block the public from seeing footage collected from police body and dashboard cams while investigations are ongoing.

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Once an investigation is over, the footage would remain restricted if it was recorded inside schools, homes, medical facilities, and other places where "one would have a reasonable expectation of privacy."

Under the new law, some people would be able to obtain copies of the restricted recordings, including those whose images or voices are contained in the video, their attorneys or certain relatives, and insurers. The general public — including journalists — would have to seek a court's permission to access videos taken from the designated non-public places.

Missouri's House of Representatives expressed almost universal support for the bill on Tuesday, after the Senate passed the legislation unanimously. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans. Lawmakers and the Missouri Sheriff's Association, which backed the bill, cited privacy issues, such as when officers rush into a home to help a victim of domestic violence.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, is still considering whether to sign the bill into law, according to an aide.

Related: Police Have Killed at Least 1,083 Americans Since Michael Brown's Death

The protests catalyzed by the shooting death of Brown on August 19, 2014, brought to light racially biased policing practices and excessive use of force by police officers across the country. The Black Lives Matter movement intensified following the deaths of other black people in police custody, including Eric Garner in New York City, Sandra Bland in Texas, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Many police departments immediately sought to respond to calls for transparency and mitigate protests by installing more patrol car cameras and equipping more officers with bodycams.

In December 2014, the US Justice Department allocated $75 million to overhaul policing practices, with some funding dedicated to buying 50,000 body-worn cameras for police departments nationwide. A number of major departments, including New York and Los Angeles, took advantage of the funding and ran bodycam pilot programs. The LAPD purchased 7,000 bodycams for its cops.

Others, like the Seattle Police Department, went even further. In an effort to meet public information requests for videos, the department launched a YouTube channel that features redacted body and dashboard camera footage taken by officers. St. Louis County began its own bodycam pilot on roughly half of its police department shortly after Brown's shooting in September 2014.

But the laws surrounding the use of release of bodycam footage remains uncertain, including when and where the cameras can be used. So far in 2016, Florida, Indiana, Utah, Washington, and the District of Columbia have enacted laws governing the use of body cameras, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-three states have passed laws for body cameras, the group said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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