Rep. Jeff Williams
WILLIAMS: Seeks to limit FOI access to body-cam and dash-cam
(R-Springdale) filed a bill
yesterday to exempt any recordings from police body-worn cameras or dash cameras that is deemed "relevant to an investigation conducted by a law enforcement agency" from disclosure under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act
"until the investigation is complete."
Prosecutors and police can already claim exemption from the FOI because of an ongoing criminal investigation by a law enforcement agency (and indeed, have often abused the exemption, attempting to claim it even in situations in which the criminal matter is closed or the police have already made their recommendation to the prosecutor).
Given that, it is not clear what the purpose of this bill is other than to codify a very broad, blanket excuse for the police to avoid or delay making body-cam or dash-cam footage public under any circumstances. The language "relevant to an investigation" sounds vague and potentially open to broad interpretation. The first thought that comes to mind is an indefinite internal investigation about an officer's conduct. Or the police could claim an exemption for an interaction that happened prior to the opening of a criminal investigation —
which is typically subject to the FOI under current law (for example, the 911 tapes in the Wade Naramore hot car case
In practice, the police themselves would be making this initial determination about what was exempt. (A judge could force them to turn something over if someone seeking an FOI took the police to court.)
Famously, it was the FOI'd dash-cam recordings
of an altercation between Little Rock police officers and former state Surgeon General Joe Thompson
that revealed a story that seemed sharply different than what the police initially claimed.
Dash-cam footage was in the news more recently
when video was released of the arrest of Rep. John Walker
, which the LRPD later apologized for.
The Williams bill is on the agenda in the House Judiciary committee, which meets this morning.