OLYMPIA – Footage from police body cameras could be released to the public under certain circumstances under a bill the Washington House of Representatives approved Monday.
Critics on the left questioned whether the restrictions would hinder police accountability, and those on the right argued they didn’t go far enough to protect private citizens from government snooping.
But on a 61-36 vote, the House approved limits on what’s private and what’s public on the video captured on cameras worn by police in Spokane and a growing number of departments across the state.
It limits broad requests for copies of footage, requiring that the name of a person involved in the incident, the date, time and location of the incident or the case number be part of the request. Certain footage also would be considered private, such as images that show a dead body, were recorded in a home or show a minor. A requester would have to demonstrate such video is of legitimate public concern.
It also would set up a task force to examine best practices for the cameras’ use and require police agencies to adopt policies, including that the cameras must be turned off in homes unless a crime is being committed or appears imminent.
“Existing law is not keeping up with technology,” said Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton. “We need some parameters on dealing with this new technology.”
Police should not release video footage that shows interviews with victims of sexual assault or instances of domestic violence, said Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island.
Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Bothell, said the state needs legislation on body cameras but not this particular bill. Instead of “rushing” to pass it, he suggested stripping the bill down to just a task force that would make recommendations in two years. That amendment failed.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, argued only footage that shows a possible felony should be released; otherwise government could scan background images to collect license plate data or track people through face recognition software.
“Welcome to 1984,” said Rep. Dave Taylor, R-Moxee.
Their efforts to amend the bill also failed. It was sent to the Senate, which is expected to hold a hearing on it later this week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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