A new analysis of open records laws in all 50 states highlights several ways Colorado legislators could make criminal justice records more accessible to journalists and the public.
police body cameras
A new Colorado law requires the public disclosure of police body-worn camera footage of incidents “in which there is a complaint of peace officer misconduct.” But what do journalists do when they want to request video, but no one has filed an official complaint?
State representatives inserted a provision addressing police radio encryption into a law-enforcement accountability measure that builds on the major police reform bill passed in 2020.
An unarmed Black man is brutally murdered by police, who are utterly indifferent to his repeated pleas for restraint. First the people in that city, then across the nation (and, eventually, across the globe) take to the streets. They demand justice. They demand accountability. And they call upon the police, not only in that city but across the nation, to reform their practices, to eliminate racial profiling and overly aggressive militaristic responses, and to become more transparent — including by publicly releasing body-worn camera recordings of police-public confrontations.
One positive development in the current historical moment is the growing awareness and recognition – by citizens, legislators, governors, mayors, and even police chiefs – that there can be little or no public trust, a necessary foundation of effective law enforcement, without both accountability and transparency.
The passage of an historic, comprehensive police reform bill transformed a relatively quiet 2020 Colorado legislative session for freedom-of-information issues into one of major importance.
The sweeping police accountability and transparency bill state lawmakers sent to Gov. Jared Polis will establish new statewide requirements for disclosing footage from body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras in Colorado, ensuring that recordings of alleged officer misconduct are made public in most circumstances.
Congress and state legislatures that provide public funds to police departments to deploy body-worn cameras should attach strings to that purse and mandate that there be a strong presumption of public access to such recordings, with only narrow, carefully defined exceptions.
The final report of a state task force on police body cameras does not recommend when or under what circumstances captured video should be released to the public.