The Louisiana Legislature is currently considering Senate Bill 398 by Sen. Ronnie Johns (R)-Lake Charles. Senate Bill 398 would exempt all body worn camera videos recorded by police from public records disclosure unless the individual or entity seeking disclosure of the video files a lawsuit and gets a court order directing the video be disclosed. It should be noted that the bulk of police body worn camera videos will likely be exempt from disclosure based on the already existing law regarding records of ongoing criminal litigation (See La. R.S. 44:3).
In an opinion piece by the NOLA.COM Editorial Board, it is stated that the bill was introduced at the behest of law enforcement. To clarify that broad assertion, the bill was introduced at the behest of the Louisiana Chief’s Association. What that means is that the bill was introduced at the request of police administrators across the state, not the rank and file officers.
In any event, there is opposition to this bill from the Louisiana Press Association and others who oppose exempting anything from being classified as public records. On Tuesday, April 26, 2016, the bill will be coming back up in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
There are many challenges to releasing police body worn camera videos. Louisiana Constitution Art. 1, Sec. 5, specifically provides a right to privacy in one’s person, property, communications, houses, papers, and effects. So, where does one’s right to privacy intersect with the public’s right to examine public records? Do we have the technology to effectively redact private information from these videos? What will be the cost of redacting these videos? How will that cost, in addition to the cost of the cameras and the storage of videos, impact smaller jurisdictions with limited resources?