HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Public access to police body cam footage is an unresolved issue in Alabama.
While other states have established policies regarding the release of the footage, there’s no law in Alabama governing the practice.
But that could soon change, if a Birmingham-based legislator is successful in pushing forward her body cam video access bill.
Alabama Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, is sponsoring House Bill 36, which would declare body cam footage a public record and create a process for family members, representatives and the media to gain access to the material.
An important note about the current bill: Givan says it contains an error by declaring body cam footage “is not” a public record. Givan told WHNT News 19 Thursday, that significant error would be corrected.
Givan says other states have found ways to address law enforcement and privacy concerns, while providing the public with a record of law enforcement encounters. And, it’s usually done in a timely way. She says a law governing body cams would strengthen public confidence and more.
“It helps with public safety,” Givan said. “A lot of times when these issues arise it helps bring a sense of calm to the situation, brings a sense of peace. People just want to know. The sooner you get the story out, the sooner you can start the healing process.”
Huntsville police officer William Darby is facing a murder charge stemming from an on-duty shooting last April. The police review board that cleared Darby and the grand jury that indicted him have both watched video from the shooting scene.
The public hasn’t seen the video.
In Huntsville, there’s no formal body cam policy, but city officials have rejected multiple open records request from WHNT for police body cam footage.
City Attorney Trey Riley addressed the issue last May.
“As a general rule we’re not going to do it, we’re not going to release that,” Riley said. “The reason being is because we feel like it does not promote the fairness of the situation.”
The ACLU of Alabama’s Dillon Nettles said it’s time Alabama has a body cam policy.
“The original conception behind body cam footage was that it would be in the public interest to better understand police practices,” Nettles said. “And we believe at the ACLU that the public has right to have access to that information.”
The fatal police shooting in Hoover has stirred the debate over body cam footage.
But last year, Huntsville’s Riley expressed concerns about a rush to judgment.
“Body cam footage is just one piece of evidence as to what happened in for instance, a criminal scene, where somebody is arrested,” Riley said.
The ACLU takes another view
“I mean body cam footage won’t tell us the full story in every instance, but it does tell us more than we know without it,” Nettles said.
The legislative session starts in March.