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Michigan House bill would exempt some police body-worn camera footage

The Michigan House is considering a bill that would exempt some footage obtained from police body-warn cameras from the Freedom of Information Act.

The bill would make police audio and video recordings taken in a private place, connected to an ongoing investigation, or relating to a civil action exempt from FOIA.

In addition, the bill would require police departments to keep recordings for 45 days. If someone requests the recording, the department must keep it for three years.

An earlier version of the bill only required agencies keep the video footage for 30 days.

State Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, is the primary sponsor of the bill.

“The bill has two purposes: make sure the data is retained for the public or anyone else who feels they had an interaction with the police that is a civil or criminal case,” Runestad said. “Second, it’s designed to protect the privacy of people in their private places.”

Recordings from a private place could still be obtained by certain people, including the subject of the recording, an individual whose property was seized or damaged, a parent of the subject in the recording if that individual is under 18, or the attorney of those involved.

Some organizations oppose the bill, including the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, Michigan Press Association and Michigan Coalition for Open Government.

Jane Briggs-Bunting, president of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government, said that current FOIA laws give enough privacy protections.

But Runestad says current FOIA laws are broad and vague on what is considered a private place, and his bill would give clear guidance to police departments.

Lisa McGraw, public affairs manager of the Michigan Press Association, also spoke against the bill during the committee session.

“It’s a protection for the police,” McGraw said. “If those records are available to the public, they can see that the police are doing their job.”

Michigan State Police Sergeant Tim Fitzgerald said he agrees with the concept of the bill.

“There are times when we're in close personal situations with people that really aren’t anyone else’s business,” Fitzgerald said.

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