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Missouri lawmaker pushes back on police body camera footage

Sen. Doug Libla's new bill would exempt all footage recorded by police from the state's open records law.
Members of the Ferguson Police department are seen during a rally on Aug. 30, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty)
Members of the Ferguson Police department are seen during a rally on Aug. 30, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.

One Republican lawmaker in Missouri is pushing back on an effort to increase transparency between the police and residents that would require officers wear body cameras in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown last year in Ferguson.

Two measures have been introduced at the state level that would require law enforcement authorities to purchase body cameras with help from taxpayers. But Missouri state Sen. Doug Libla's new bill would exempt all footage recorded by police — both on body and dashboard cameras — from the state's open records law. The legislation would also prohibit the state from demanding that police departments use body cameras.

Libla did not immediately respond to msnbc's request for comment.

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Supporters of Libla's bill, including some officers across the country, argue that cops make mistakes. If those incidents are captured on camera, they say, the damage will most likely live on the Internet indefinitely. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and Democratic State Attorney General Chris Koster also have expressed concerns about the footage.

The recent deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers have renewed a national conversation about community policing and law enforcement policies. Protesters began taking to the streets after Brown's death on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis. Three months later, a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in connection with the incident. The Brown family called on supporters to help them campaign to ensure that all officers working around the country wear body cameras.

Also last year, a New York City grand jury chose not to indict a white officer in the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in an apparent police chokehold in July. The incident that led to Garner's death was recorded on video and widely distributed in the media.

The deaths of both Brown and Garner led to protests across the country, and sparked civil rights investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice. In December, President Barack Obama announced a plan to spend $75 million on body cameras for law enforcement.

Similarly, in Cleveland, Ohio, community leaders are working with city officials to require police in every district to wear body cameras by June. The Cleveland Police Department has faced mounting criticism over past high-profile incidents, including the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice outside of a recreation center in November. The DOJ concluded after an investigation that there was “reasonable cause” to believe the department routinely has used excessive force. The city purchased 1,500 cameras in January.

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Video footage has sometimes led to the suspension of officers from police forces, including of a cop in Baltimore, Maryland, who was caught repeatedly beating a man last year. Similarly, near Columbia, South Carolina, a cop was charged with assault after being caught on his dashboard camerafiring several gunshots at the driver of a vehicle he pulled over in a gas station parking lot.

In October 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union published a paper urging police departments to require officers to wear cameras during the length of their shifts to increase transparency between cops and the communities they serve. But some authorities' issue with public record laws raised several problems with the ACLU's argument.

In a blog post earlier this month, Jay Stanley, ACLU senior policy analyst, pointed out that residents can't forget about the privacy of the public nor of the officers.

"That was paired with and premised upon a regime that we recommended in which the vast majority of video footage would be locked away, never to see the light of day," he added, "with the only exceptions being where there was an allegation of wrongdoing against an officer, or the video was evidence of a crime."