Updated: January 01, 2021 10:15 PM
Created: January 01, 2021 03:23 PM
The decision to release the officer-worn body camera footage less than 24 hours after the deadly shooting continues a new trend at the Minneapolis Police Department that transparency advocates applaud, while critics say it can be deceiving.
In Minnesota, it usually takes months or even a year before powerful — and oftentimes graphic — video evidence becomes public, whether from body cameras or surveillance video.
But during Thursday afternoon's press conference at city hall, officials repeated a commitment to transparency.
"Honesty and accountability is what will move us forward," Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said on Thursday.
Jane Kirtley, a media ethics and law professor at the University of Minnesota who advocates for government transparency, described the rapid release of the video as a "seismic shift" at city hall.
"From a public relations, public education, accountability standpoint, this is a brilliant move," Kirtley said. "This is a very significant moment. And I think it, frankly, tracks with the greater openness we're seeing in connection with the George Floyd trials that are coming up next year."
By releasing the footage from one of the officers so quickly during an active investigation, officials are leaning on a specific state law that allows for the release of evidence if it will, in part, "dispel widespread rumor or unrest."
MPD most recently exercised that provision in the law late last summer when riots downtown turned violent all because of rumors — protestors thought police killed a man when he actually took his own life.
The department released the graphic surveillance video that same night in an attempt to calm the community.
It's also why police released body camera footage in 2018 about a month after officers shot Thurman Blevins while he was running from officers with a gun in hand.
"I would hope that there has been some recognition on the part of the police, that transparency and accountability are key to public trust," Kirtley said. "It's perfectly natural that the public will think, if you're withholding this footage, you must have something to hide. I'm not saying that's always the case by any means, but it does create that impression."
Critics are quick to point out that MPD has wide discretion, and could very easily only release video that is favorable to the department.
For instance, the city did not immediately release the body camera footage showing the death of George Floyd.
On Thursday, MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo was asked if this will be the new standard moving forward.
"I think, quite frankly, it's going to be on a case-by-case basis," he said. "One thing is for sure, is public transparency is going to weigh into that," Arradondo said.
In this case, the city only released to the public one clip showing one vantage point of Wednesday night's shooting. However, state investigators will have access to the other videos.
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