- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Frustration mounted Wednesday as Minnesota lawmakers reviewed new proposed guidelines for body cameras and access to resulting footage, a policy exercise that has proven difficult amid demands for police accountability, personal privacy and transparency.

The latest plan, developed during invitation-only stakeholder meetings and aired publicly during Wednesday’s joint House-Senate committee hearing, didn’t resolve divisions over potential state regulations of the devices and led one lawmaker to lament about the inability to strike an appropriate balance.

“We are so far off right now and this is disturbing considering how many years we have been working on this,” said Democratic Rep. Dan Schoen of Cottage Grove, a licensed police officer. “If we can’t get this done, then shame on us.”

The cameras that capture interactions between officers and the public are used by about 40 departments from Burnsville to Duluth, with Minneapolis and St. Paul preparing their own deployments soon. Altercations and shootings involving police have amplified calls for wider use of the cameras, but some departments are waiting for guidance from state lawmakers before buying the technology. Prior legislative efforts to pass a body-camera law have stalled.

Wednesday’s hearing was meant to tee up the issue for the 2016 session. The conversation mostly centered on the new plan from Rep. Peggy Scott, a Republican who leads the House Civil Law Committee. No votes were taken.

Compared to a version that cleared the Senate last spring, Scott’s proposal contains more restrictions on when cameras are activated. It requires officers to get permission to record on private property unless there is an emergency or a warrant, bars police from using facial-recognition technology in most cases and discourages their use during assemblies or other “First Amendment activities.”

Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, said imposing too many conditions is a bad idea.

“I don’t want in a crucial instance for a pause to cause a situation to go bad,” he said. “If you are pausing to decide if we should turn this on or off it is only the matter of when this will cause a death.”

Footage obtained on private property would be kept private unless force is used or bodily harm occurs. Video that doesn’t factor into an investigation or involve an emergency, incident or request for service would be destroyed within a day. In cases involving force, officers would be barred from viewing videos they made prior to writing their formal police report.

Scott acknowledged aspects of her proposal need honing. “This issue is not a simple one,” she said.

Minnesota Police and Peace Officer Association Executive Director Dennis Flaherty said some of the complexities would be taken care of by walling more of the footage off.

“There really is no compelling need for the public to have access to a huge majority of the things we do every day,” he said.

But people and groups who keep tabs on policing said the public deserves access to some of the data, particularly in cases where officer conduct is in question. Even though they said they favored the Scott plan over previous bills, the self-styled watchdogs were uneasy about aspects that would give police power to destroy videos they don’t deem relevant to active probes.

“You cannot have police policing police,” said Diane Binns, a vice president at the St. Paul NAACP and a member of the city’s police civilian review commission.

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