Lawmakers push for statewide body camera policies after 5 INVESTIGATES found police officers turning off cameras

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As debate over police accountability and reform continues at the Minnesota state capitol, lawmakers have introduced new provisions that would govern how law enforcement across the state use body-worn cameras.

The proposals come after 5 INVESTIGATES found officers were turning off or muting their body cameras in the middle of traffic stops, felony arrests and in the aftermath of deadly encounters. The story revealed it is department policies that allow police and sheriff’s deputies such discretion.

House DFL leaders and Senate Republicans have yet to agree on a public safety bill. Earlier this month, both sides acknowledged it would be the most challenging piece of legislation to find agreement on during the June special session.

"I actually did not know that you can shut off body cams at any time," said Rep. Carlos Mariani, the DFL lawmaker who chairs the House Public Safety Committee. "When I saw that story that morning, that was the very first thought I had, which is, ‘Why are these off?’"

Mariani is one of the DFL leaders who has called for statewide police reforms in the last year.

"Your story, you know, it was just a point-on-blank narrative of how we need uniform policies all over the state," he said.

After the 5 INVESTIGATES story, lawmakers researched and wrote body camera policies into the DFL-proposed public safety omnibus bill. The measure, carried by Rep. Cedrick Frazier of New Hope, would require the cameras be turned on and stay on during an incident.

A spokesperson for Senate Republicans said that language has not yet been discussed during negotiations.

"It makes sense that we would have our cameras and the audio engaged so that we can make sure we’re documenting what’s happening," said Frazier, who is vice-chair of the House public safety committee.

In addition to the limits on officer discretion, the proposal includes funding for police departments and sheriff’s offices to equip officers with body cameras. Frazier said law enforcement he’s spoken with support policy changes.

"All of these measures are meant to raise a profession, and to build the trust that we need for our police officers, with our community members and our fellow Minnesotans," he said.

While most of the negotiations so far have been behind closed doors, both DFLers are confident leaders in both chambers will reach an agreement this week.

A spokesperson for the Senate Republicans said leaders feel the talks progressed nicely over the weekend and they also feel they will reach an agreement soon.

However, they said DFL leadership has not presented them with the "always-on" body camera policy provisions as a part of any final legislation at this time.