Police officers embody a commitment to public safety and trust, however, nationwide attention has turned to several local law enforcement agencies and the number of unarmed individuals killed by a police officer. These officer-involved deaths have ignited protests and demonstrations across the U.S. Communities of color have had a complicated history with law enforcement. According to Mapping Police Violence, out of 297 unarmed people killed by police in 2014 and March 2015, 167 of them were African American. Racial profiling and excessive force have created an environment of distrust of the police. The National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) passed LJE-15-39 BODY-MOUNTED CAMERAS TO PROTECT PUBLIC SAFETY and LJE-15-43 ADVOCATING FOR SMART LAW ENFORCEMENT POLICIES IN CIVILIAN INTERACTIONS at the 2014 Annual Legislative Conference calling on states to take action on improving police practices and policies. Several states have responded by passing legislation implementing body cameras, better reporting practices, and independent investigations into police-related deaths.
The Obama Administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing solicited recommendations from private citizens, advocacy organizations, and law enforcement organizations, on how law enforcement could improve their relationship with citizens and still protect the public. The task force’s completed report can be found here.
NBCSL members have introduced and passed legislation aimed at creating more accountability, increasing transparency and overall rebuilding public trust and confidence in law enforcement.
S248 (2015) Public Records/Body Camera Recording Made by a Law Enforcement Officer
|Sponsors: Senators Christopher L. Smith,*Geraldine Thompson,* Darren Soto, Kelli Stargel
Summary: Privacy has been a major sticking point in the discussion on body cameras. As a result, the legislature passed this measure on keeping footage captured by body cameras confidential. Interactions filmed inside a private residence, in a facility that offers health care, mental care, or social services, or filmed in a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy are confidential and are only open under certain circumstances.
Goals: The legislature recognized the importance of having body cameras but also understood that police officers wearing body cameras often catch people in their most vulnerable moments. That highly sensitive information should be not open for public requests without the proper justification.
Concerns: Those in opposition to the bill stated that it limits the way body camera footage can be obtained.
S47 (2015) Requires All State and Local Law Enforcement to Use Body-Worn Cameras
|Sponsors: Senators Gerald Malloy,* Marlon E. Kimpson,* Kevin L. Johnson,* Clementa Pinckney,* Paul Thurmond, Nikki G. Setzler, Lawrence K. Grooms, Joel Lourie, J., Thomas McElveen, Karl B. Allen,*Katrina Frye Shealy, Creighton Coleman, George Campsen, John L. Scott,* Floyd Nicholson
Summary: This bill creates a requirement among all state and local police officers to wear body cameras. The Law Enforcement Training Council will create guidelines governing the use of body cameras, which law enforcement officers must wear body-cameras, and other areas. The bill also creates a fund within the Department of Public Safety to provide for the implementation, maintenance, and operation.
Goals: Body cameras have been supported by several organizations because the cameras will provide an accurate recording of an interaction between police and citizens. In this bill, the legislature will provide the added protection of a recording device and decrease public safety concerns.
Concerns: One concern with this measure was funding the body cameras, the video storage, and the recordkeeping. Another concern was privacy issues. Several advocates expressed the need to protect juveniles, informants, and sexual assault victims who were coming into contact with law enforcement and their recordings.
HB 954 (2015) Public Safety – Deaths Involving a Law Enforcement Officer – Reports
|Sponsors: Delegates Alonzo Washington,* Marice Morales, Curtis Anderson,* Darryl Barnes,* Jill Carter,* Frank Conaway,* Edith Patterson,* Will Smith,* Charles Sydnor*
Summary: This bill would require each local law enforcement agency to provide information on every officer-involved death in the line of the duty, to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control every year. This information would include the race, ethnicity, and gender of the individual who has been killed and of the police officer involved. They are also required to detail the circumstances on the death.
Goals: The Governor’s Office of Crime Control will produce a report of these officer-related fatalities for the three years prior. This information will be submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for reporting purposes under the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR).
Concerns: Opponents argued compiling three years of information is burdensome and difficult given several law enforcement agencies did not regularly collect the data.
HB 1036 (2015) Reports Required For Officer-Involved Injuries or Deaths
|Sponsors: Representative Eric Johnson,* Senators John Whitmire, Royce West*
Summary: This bill requires the office of the attorney general to create an electronic and written form for law enforcement agencies to record information on officer-involved injuries or deaths. The agency will document the age, gender, and race/ethnicity of the victim as well the age, gender, and race/ethnicity of the officer involved in the incident. In addition, agencies will also be required to document whether the injured or killed party was carrying a deadly weapon and if the police officer was responding to an emergency call in the area. The report would also be used to detail incidents were police officers were killed or injured.
Goals: This bill would be a step towards obtaining accurate information on the number of officer-involved injuries and fatalities that occur in the state. It would also increase transparency and be a step towards improving public trust in the police.
Concerns: Those in opposition to the bill stated that the extra reporting would be duplicative in some agencies and create a burden. Furthermore, opponents claimed the report might not provide a truly accurate accounting of what happened.
AB 409 (2013) Investigation of Deaths Involving A Law Enforcement Officer
|Sponsors: Representatives Garey Bies, Chris Taylor, Terese Berceau, Evan Goyke, Robb Kahl, Fred Kessler, Thomas Larson; Senators Lena Taylor,* John Lehman, Fred Risser
Summary: Wisconsin was the first in the nation to pass a bill requiring an outside investigator be used in cases concerning a police-involved death. The investigation must be conducted by at least two investigators that are not employed in that law enforcement agency, who will then provide the findings of their investigation to the district attorney. The district attorney must disclose this report if they find there are no grounds for prosecution. Finally, it gives victims’ families a right under the Victim’s Bill of Rights to receive information on filing a complaint and filing a coroner’s inquest.
Goals: Using an independent investigation agency creates more transparency in the investigation process, as well as ensures accountability for the victim’s families.
Concerns: Police departments that were opposed to the law argued that police departments were “uniquely suited to investigate incidents.”
Tensions between police and the public are high, and seem to increase with each day. Despite, the seemingly insurmountable task of cooling these tensions, NBCSL members are working to rebuild faith and trust. Eliminating violent practices, ending racial profiling, and increasing transparency will help to bridge the divide between our communities and law enforcement.