OLYMPIA – Cities and towns would be encouraged, but not required, to authorize their police officers to use body cameras, under a bill that received final approval Tuesday in the House.
The public release of the images those cameras capture would be limited and cities would not have to release videos “highly offensive to a reasonable person,” under the bill the House sent to Gov. Jay Inslee on a 57-39 vote.
The use of police body cameras was one of the most hotly contested topics of the 2016 session. Some groups want them to become more common to protect citizens against police misconduct. Others worry the public release of the images they capture can invade the privacy of people who encounter officers as a result of sexual assault, domestic violence or mental health problems.
The use of body cameras varies around Washington, with Spokane, Liberty Lake and Airway Heights among cities that have ordered some or all of their officers to wear them. Cities that use body cameras have received blanket requests for all the images those cameras have captured, which city officials have said would be expensive and time consuming to fill.
Under the final version of the bill, a person requesting a body camera recording must identify a person involved in an incident; provide a case number; an officer involved or the time, date and place of the incident. A person involved in an incident involving an officer would have the right to receive a copy of that video.
Images that show minors, patients, victims of sexual assault or domestic abuse, the interior of a home or the body of a dead person can be exempt from disclosure.
Rep. Terry Nealy, R-Dayton, said the sides will probably never reach complete agreement on the use of body cameras, but the bill is a good first step. “At least we are placing some parameters on privacy and body cameras,” he said.
But Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said the fact that some cities have started using body cameras and now needs the state’s help to set up rules is not a reason to pass a bad bill. “When in doubt, we have to draw a line that protects constitutional rights,” he said.