SB 1999/HB 2586, as amended, would minimize police accountability in Tennessee by limiting public access to police body camera and in-car camera footage. It would also allow footage to be deleted too soon.
Police body camera and in-car camera footage has been crucial to exposing instances of police brutality and spurring calls for reform across the country. However, this bill would give Tennessee law enforcement nearly unlimited discretion over whether to release collected footage and essentially exempt all of it from public records law unless it becomes relevant to a criminal court proceeding – allowing police to dodge accountability in instances of misconduct.
Under this bill, footage depicting officers using excessive force or violating policies would only require the footage to be retained for 30 days, and video of police discharging guns or inflicting serious bodily injury need only be retained for 90 days, unless a district attorney subpoenas the video. But it is common for DAs to not learn about excessive force incidents until long after these periods. And if body or dash cam video depicting police misconduct is not routed to the DA for a criminal case, it’s possible that no member of the public will ever be able to review the video, even if they were the one affected by the police misconduct.
Local governments have aways had the authority to regulate the use of police surveillance technologies like facial recognition tools, drones and license plate readers on community members. But SB 1999/HB 2685 takes this power away and places it in the hands of the state.
This complex amendment could have a detrimental impact on Tennessee communities, yet it was introduced at the eleventh hour, without allowing enough time for lawmakers to discuss the bill or for the public to review it. It’s not even available on the state’s legislative website. Community members and legislators should have the opportunity to review and discuss this complicated and harmful amendment.