A proposal to buy body cameras for every Arizona state trooper would also prevent the Department of Public Safety from releasing most of the video to the public.
If House Bill 2461 becomes law, DPS could release videos of criminal acts and use them to help convict people in court. Critics say DPS could also deny all other requests to see all non-criminal video, including routine traffic stops, car crash scenes, and even videos showing officer misconduct.
Crys for DPS to start using police body cams increased after DPS trooper George Cervantes fatally shot Dion Johnson in his car last May. His death prompted public protests and calls for more transparency.
“Had [Cervantes] had a body-worn camera, the public would know what actually happened in at that vehicle when he came in contact with Mr. Johnson,” said Jocquese Blackwell, a former lawyer for Dion Johnson's family
Outfitting DPS troopers with body cameras would cost $1.5 million each year for 5 years.
Governor Doug Ducey has pushed for the purchase before Johnson's death to increase transparency and accountability.
ABC15 also showed you last summer how three-quarters of Arizona police agencies already had body cameras, and DPS had fallen behind the times.
This year Republican state Rep. Kevin Payne introduced the funding bill, HB2461 “to keep the citizens as well as the officers safer and keep a record of what goes on.”
The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Arizona House of Representatives.
In the Senate, Appropriations Chairman David Gowan introduced an amendment saying, “The Department may not disclose the recording made by an officer-worn body camera unless the recording involves a criminal act."
“I want to make sure that if it's not a criminal act that not everything could be seen - so a civil liberties situation,” Gowen said.
“Policies that allow police officers to hide certain videos from the public really creates mistrust between the police and the community,” said Darrell Hill from the ACLU of Arizona.
Payne told ABC15 DPS would have more wiggle room on releasing videos than the amendment specifically states. He urges colleagues to vote “yes,” despite and concerns.
“To just squabble over something like this would be, I think, you know, to lose it until next year,” Payne said. “I don't think it'd be a good thing.”
“I think the governor should veto it,” Blackwell said.
If passed and signed by the governor, HB2461 would make DPS bodycam video rules different than most other Arizona police departments. Those agencies consider all bodycam videos to be public records under state law. To protect privacy, police departments redact or blur names, faces, and identifying information for victims and witnesses.