- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would limit the public’s access to some footage from police body cameras, which Republican lawmakers said was a necessary prerequisite for more law enforcement departments to take up the technology.

Other bills mandating wider use of body cameras have gained little traction since the issue gained national prominence following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, by a white police officer in Ferguson. Although the Department of Justice cleared the officer of wrongdoing, the episode led to calls for more police transparency, with some touting body cameras as a way to bring transparency to police encounters otherwise characterized by eyewitness accounts.

But so far, Missouri’s GOP-led Legislature has been reluctant to impose new statewide requirements on law enforcement. Republicans have said a better method is to encourage departments to adopt body cameras by giving them a concrete legal framework in which to employ them.

The Senate’s proposal, which passed 30-0, would restrict public access to the footage for the duration of an investigation. The bill would also limit access to footage from body cameras and dashboard cameras under open records laws if the video depicts a nonpublic location.

Under those circumstances, people who are depicted in the video, their family members or their lawyers could access the footage. Others would need a court’s permission.

The legislation directs courts to weigh the possible public benefit of releasing the footage against any damage it could do to an investigation, privacy concerns and whether it is “reasonably likely to bring shame or humiliation to a person of ordinary sensibilities.”

If a person wins a court approval to access footage recorded in a nonpublic location, they would be prohibited from publishing or describing it before giving ten days’ notice to everyone in the video, who could then seek a court order to block the recording’s distribution. That provision would not apply to police who appear in a video.

Sen. Bob Onder, a Republican from Lake St. Louis, said departments across the state operate in different kinds of communities, and they should have the flexibility to adopt body cameras in ways that suit their individual circumstances.

Sen. Bob Dixon, a Republican from Springfield, said these guidelines would encourage more departments to use body cameras.

Still, the Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. Jamilah Nasheed to require police in St. Louis to wear them. Nasheed said the cameras would restore trust in law enforcement by eliminating any “he-said-she-said” around police encounters.

The bill goes to the House for consideration, where similar legislation also is awaiting a vote.

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