Today, Mayor Jackie Biskupski issued an Executive Order governing the release of police body-worn camera (BWC) recordings of officer involved critical incidents (OICI) in Salt Lake City. The policy comes after stakeholders, including District Attorney Sim Gill, were given the opportunity to comment on a draft policy released in January.
The new policy states that 10 business days after the OICI the BWC recording will be classified as a public record barring any unusual or unforeseen circumstances. Once the BWC recording has been classified as a public record it will be released pursuant to a GRAMA request. The recordings may be subject to redaction or segregation of any private, controlled, or protected images or sounds contained on the recordings. These may include images or sounds which identify potential witnesses or minors.
The policy is designed to make clear the mechanism of when and how Salt Lake City will release information on critical incidents. In releasing the policy, the Mayor acknowledged the importance of balancing transparency with the need to provide due process for investigations.
“Government should always strive to be responsive to the needs of residents and adopt policies and laws which are reflective of community standards,” said Mayor Biskupski. “More and more video recordings are becoming part of the national narrative on police-community relations. By having a policy in place, which favors transparency, we can help eliminate unwarranted suspicion toward our law enforcement and investigative agencies, while we continue important dialogue.”
In late January, the Mayor’s Office released a draft of the Executive Order for public comment and review. The Mayor’s Office received feedback from members of the public, and stakeholders, including the ACLU of Utah and the District Attorney. In a letter sent February 28, 2017, the ACLU Utah “applauded” the draft policy, but suggested changes, including shortening the timeline for review and release to more closely mirror GRAMA.
District Attorney Sim Gill joined Mayor Biskupski in announcing the new policy, indicating his office could work within the parameters set by the new policy.
“The SLCO DA’s office is pleased that Mayor Biskupski worked with us to craft a policy that balances the need for transparency and need to protect the integrity of critical investigations that are the concerns of our community,” said District Attorney Sim Gill. “We have both shared a concern for preserving the investigative process while creating a workable, transparent policy that recognizes the interests of our citizens. Although, there are a wide range of national practices this policy achieves well thought and balanced approach for the needs of our community.”
Nationwide, various municipalities are dealing with the issue of when to release BWC recordings. In crafting the new policy, the City reached out to members of the Major Cities Chiefs Association for policies related to release of BWC. Of the 19 responses, a majority handled release according to state records laws and either explicitly stated, or strongly suggested no release during an OICI investigation, if at all. A handful of cities, examined, including Sacramento, Tulsa, Louisville, Las Vegas, and New Orleans, had policies that allowed for contemplated release before an investigation was complete.
“This policy provides time for investigators to protect sensitive evidence, through a court order if necessary, while respecting the intent and spirit of the State’s GRAMA statue,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski. “It’s fairly clear in the GRAMA statute that public access should weigh heavily in deciding access, especially when public interest is high, as is often the case with these incidents.”
The new policy will go into effect immediately.