Williamson legislators will lead on police body camera bills

Williamson legislators will lead on police body camera bills

With bills filed, two of Williamson’s Republican legislators have taken strides forward to figuring out what should become a public record from a police department body camera.

Many departments across Tennessee have them in use already. But Franklin has taken a patient approach to their implementation, more or less waiting on state law to give them guidance.

Freshman Rep. Sam Whitson (R-Franklin) will take the lead on the issue with HB 732. Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) has sponsored it on his side of the legislature. The bill comes from the prompting of the City of Franklin.

“I leave room for a couple of bills for the cities,” Whitson said.

Whitson’s language would not allow interactions on police body cameras with minors or those within the interior of a healthcare or mental health facility to become public record. Whitson’s bill also wouldn’t allow anything collected on a body camera to become public record where no crime occurred.

Let’s say you have an alarm system that your cat or dog tripped, and when police get there and walk through your home, there’s no crime,” Whitson said. “They have public record where a crime didn’t happen. You may not want everyone to see your Barry Manilow collection.”

Rep. Glen Casada – who is the House Majority Leader – also filed a bill, one close in wording. HB 1146 only addresses the capture of minors on police body camera footage. On the senate side, Sen. Mike Bell is carrying Casada’s bill.

One of the concerns is that maybe information that should be open to the public won’t be open to the public,” Casada said. “We want those to in that bill to have reasonable expectation of privacy, but we don’t want to cover up evidence for a criminal event. Everyone agrees with that in principle, but how do we put that into language?”

Casada said he and Whitson will meet with police personnel and public records advocates to continue the conversation of the bill’s wording.

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has been a staunch advocate into making sure footage from police cameras remained open record to the public, especially as more departments began to use them.

From their perspective, TCOG said it’s a little early to predict where the bills might go.

“For our part, our interest has always been that any legislation that seeks to protect citizen privacy also protects the public interest in government accountability — such when there is a question about police use of force that results in a citizen’s death or serious injury,” TCOG Executive Director Deborah Fisher said. “There is some protection in the law now for such accountability – it could and should be improved, but we certainly would not want it to disappear.”

The City of Franklin legal department wasn’t available for comment. 

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