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DFL bill seeks to limit the wait times for families to view body cam footage

While police reform activists testifying Friday, Feb. 4, at the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee expressed overall support for the DFL’s public safety bill, they told representatives that a week is too long of a wait for grieving families.

Amir Locke, 22, holds a gun as he unfolds a blanket before being shot and killed by Minneapolis police's SWAT team, in Minneapolis
Amir Locke, 22, holds a gun as he unfolds a blanket before being shot and killed by Minneapolis police's SWAT team, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Feb. 2, 2022, in this screengrab taken from a police bodycam video.
Minneapolis Police Department / via REUTERS
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ST. PAUL — Families in Minnesota can wait months before law enforcement agencies allow them to view body camera footage when they lose loved ones in deadly police encounters.

But a proposal within the $100 million dollar Democratic-Farmer-Labor public safety bill seeks to limit that wait to seven days.

It’s part of a broader $2.5 million program in the legislation aimed at equipping more officers with body cameras. The bill would also mandate the release of the recordings to the family no later than 90 days after the incident, and place limits on redaction “no more than what is required by law.”

While police reform activists testifying Friday, Feb. 4, at the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee expressed overall support for the DFL’s public safety bill, they told representatives that a week is too long of a wait for grieving families.

“While that’s certainly a vast improvement over what we have right now, it isn’t enough,” said Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality. “People should not agonize for days on days, and as it exists now sometimes even months before they get to see any type of information on what happened to their loved one.”

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“We recognize that there is some time needed to prepare the footage and so forth, but at the same time we think 48 hours is quite adequate in the days of modern technology to make this information available — at least to the family,” Gross continued.

Current state records law generally considers body camera data nonpublic, though it makes exceptions in certain cases. Video is public once an investigation is complete if it documents an officer discharging a weapon in the line of duty. It also allows for departments to release data “to the public to aid law enforcement, promote public safety, or dispel rumor or unrest.”

After calls from activists, lawmakers and the community, the Minneapolis Police Department on Thursday released body camera footage of the Wednesday morning search warrant raid where officers shot and killed 22-year-old Amir Locke.

Amity Dimock, the mother of Kobe Dimock-Heisler, a 21-year-old on the autism spectrum shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police on a 2019 domestic call, told committee members that shows departments are more than capable of releasing footage quickly.

“In the George Floyd case, in the Daunte Wright case and now in the Amir Locke case, officials were able to present the body-worn cameras within 24 to 48 hours due to public pressure,” she said. “I don’t think any individual family should have to rely on public pressure to get videos early.”

Dimock said her family was finally able to see videos in her son’s case four days after police killed Floyd in late May 2020. Initially, families are only able to view videos a few times and can’t keep the files.

Dimock said she ultimately supports the public safety bill and money for bodycams but felt conflicted as she disagrees with the week-long wait and disagrees with initially allowing family to only view video. Further, she disagreed with language allowing a department chief to deny a request if the agency can articulate a compelling reason that a review of the recordings could interfere with an investigation.

In a written statement to the House Public Safety Committee, the Minnesota Sheriffs Association and Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association said they support body camera grants but took issue with a few provisions of the proposal.

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“While we don’t object to changing the law to allow the next of kin or family members to see the body camera footage of an officer-involved incident, we do object to the current language,” the statement said. The bill does not consider how long the interview process takes in these cases. Traditionally these interviews take closer to 14 days to complete. We support simply making the data public to all in these incidents after the interview process has concluded.”

The DFL’s $100 million public safety package emphasizes a “community approach” to law enforcement. It calls for $40 million for community safety grants for organizations that aim to prevent crime. It also calls for $22 million each for grants to support local community policing and expanding crime investigation resources. Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, is the bill’s main author.

Minnesota Republicans, who control the Senate, are proposing increases for mandatory minimum penalties for offenses such as carjacking and want to use part of the state’s projected $7.7 billion budget surplus to support signing bonuses for new police officers.

Lawmakers and DFL Gov. Tim Walz have said addressing a recent surge in violent crime is a priority for this legislative session. But with control of the legislature split between two parties, any public safety package signed into law by Walz will reflect a compromise between the two visions.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of two references to Amity Dimock's last name.

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email aderosier@forumcomm.com.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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