Olympia Mayor Pro Tem Jones Testifies in Support of Police Worn Body Camera Related Legislation
By Janine Gates
At Olympia’s city council meeting Tuesday evening, Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones read a statement he wrote, confirming the city's commitment to police worn body cameras. It received council consensus, and gave the city’s Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations additional guidance on its role exploring public involvement on the issue.
How little or far the city wants to go in terms of its policies around the issue is up to the community, but the camera's use and related record keeping will also be heavily influenced by state law.
Police worn body camera recordings are currently public records subject to the state Public Records Act and present a whole host of privacy issues, especially for juveniles, crime victims, and witnesses to crimes.
While some subjects and information are exempt from the law, a 2014 opinion by the state Attorney General determined that body worn camera recordings are not generally subject to the Privacy Act, and that conversations between on-duty police officers and the public are not considered private.
A bill sponsored by Washington State Representative Drew Hansen (D-23), HB 2362, would exempt body worn camera recordings to the extent they violate someone's right to privacy. The bill has passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and is now in the Rules Committee.
The bill also requires law enforcement agencies and corrections agencies that use body worn cameras to establish policies regarding their use, and requires the legislature to convene a task force to examine the use of body worn cameras by law enforcement and corrections agencies.
The bill was the result of a year of work involving groups interested in working to develop a broad, statewide framework around the issue. The bill still allows local jurisdictions to set some of their own policies.
Despite the efforts, bill opponents, especially those representing communities of color such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, want video footage by officers deleted if it does not have accountability value. They are also concerned that footage could be used for surveillance purposes.
Others groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys expressed concern that the bill does not go far enough to protect individual privacy, and also believe footage could be used by law enforcement for local and national security related surveillance activities.
Olympia Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones testified in support of the bill at a hearing on January 14th, along with representatives from the cities of Seattle, Bellingham, Poulsbo, the Association of Washington Cities, the Washington Association of Counties, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and many more.
“This is very difficult legislation….I told the committee that Olympia needs support from the Legislature to reduce the financial and legal risks associated with unresolved privacy and records management concerns. The bill is helpful but should go further in these areas,” Jones told Little Hollywood on Wednesday.
For more information about the City of Olympia Police Department, the Ad Hoc Committee on Police and Community Relations, and other Olympia police related news, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com and type key words into the search engine.
To track bills through the Washington State legislative process, go to www.leg.wa.gov