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Arizona bill requiring redactions on all body camera footage is back

A GOP lawmaker who spent decades as a police officer is reviving a measure that would heavily redact any body-worn camera footage released to the public, including requiring nearly all faces be blurred. 

“This would create a new and different standard that is only for body worn cameras,” K.M. Bell, ACLU Arizona’s Smart Justice campaign strategist, told the Arizona Mirror. Arizona public record law already has exemptions for privacy to allow agencies to do redactions as necessary, making the bill moot, Bell said. 

House Bill 2081 states that a law enforcement agency must redact any portion of a video that shows a face “or an identifiable body part” of a person who is not subject to a police investigation or action. Additionally, if the person is in a private place, or a public place where there is an “expectation of privacy,” and the person is a victim or witness or is in a state of undress, then they must be blurred or redacted.

The law doesn’t apply to anyone who signs a waiver or to an on-duty police officer. 

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, called the current carve out in public records law that allows for agencies to redact individuals faces for privacy or for victim information “vague.” He said in claims of excessive force by police, there would be no redactions — but if the cops “run into a locker room” or are “searching a home” where there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy” the redactions would come into play. 

“Who has the right to see their faces?” Kavanagh said. “I don’t think anybody does.”

The ACLU said it is worried about how the bill could possibly hinder law enforcement if passed. 

“There are other unintended consequences of this bill,” Bell said, recalling the events of the Boston Marathon bombing, when two terrorists planted pressure cooker bombs that killed three and injured hundreds more. Bell said that if a similar event were to happen, releasing body camera footage to the public to help in finding suspects would be trickier with the way the bill is worded. 

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Kavanagh said he spoke with the Phoenix Police Department and was told it would “cost money” to implement the bill, but that the agency does redact some of their footage. 

A previous investigation by the Mirror found that policies by police agencies in the Valley vary widely on how they handle releasing body worn camera footage. For example, Tempe Police apply a “medium blur” to the entirety of all footage released unless the requester explicitly asks for it to be removed. 

“It undermines the existing public records law and hinders law enforcement investigation and undermines public trust in law enforcement,” Bell said of the bill. 

Kavanagh said the bill isn’t in response to any specific incident, but that the idea came to him because he read about the “proliferation of cameras” and other privacy issues he deemed to be an issue. 

“I’m a lawmaker and I can do something about it,” Kavanagh said.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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