With the public still reeling after the yearlong delay in release of a video showing a black teenager fatally shot by a white police officer, Illinois lawmakers are scrambling to answer the same questions lawmakers from numerous other states across the country have been wrestling with for some time: How much access does the public need and do body cameras and dashboard videos qualify for public release under open records laws?
These questions do not always have clear answers. Government officials must weigh the public’s increasing interest in monitoring police activities with the protection of victim privacy and the integrity of pending investigations. Currently, the power often rests with law-enforcement agencies themselves, who can determine when, and if, videos should be available for release. Illinois legislators supporting changes now want a judge to be the first stop in such determination, where, if no protective order is issued, the video would be released under normal open records guidelines. Those supporting the proposal hope to restore public confidence in the process and transparency in the way shootings are handled by the police. The bill already has bipartisan support from sixteen lawmakers who have signed on as co-sponsors.
If passed, the Bill will apply to dashcams and officer-worn body cameras, which are being adopted across the country as a way to monitor fatal police interactions with citizens, especially interactions with African-American individuals, which have come under greater scrutiny in the past 18 months.
So far twenty states and the District of Columbia have laws addressing body cameras, with most acting as a “guidebook” on how to use the cameras, and only ten considering the videos to fall under the umbrella of the state’s “open records laws.”
“We look at it as a piece of evidence” said Laimutis Nargelanas, former lobbyist for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, and the current police chief for the Springfield Park District. Nargelanas finds the bill problematic, concerned that if the videos are made “open record” that they could compromise an on-going investigation. “We have a concern that [Representative Turner, proponent of the bill)]wants us to, automatically, if there’s a police shooting, release the video and if we don’t want to release it go to the judge.”
The American Civil Liberties Union shares in the chief’s concerns, noting that the legislation could inadvertently expose people’s privacy because police don’t have time to go to court every time there is a request to release a video.
“All of these videos are going to be taken and almost all of them are going to be released” said Chad Marlow, counsel for the ACLU. “It’s a commendable effort focusing on a real problem, but that solution creates a brand new problem.”
Clearly, the issues raised by this simple looking proposal are complex. We will follow the debate closely.
David Rapoport is the founding and managing partner of Rapoport Law Offices. In his over 31 years as a full time trial attorney, he has won numerous multi-million dollar jury verdicts and settlements in personal injury and wrongful death cases. Mr. Rapoport is a member of the invitation only American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), an association of premier trial attorneys who are dedicated to preserving the right to trial by jury. ABOTA's general mission is "to foster improvement in the ethical and technical standards of practice in the field of advocacy to the end that individual litigants may receive more effective representation and the general public be benefited by more efficient administration of justice consistent with time-tested and traditional principles of litigation." For over 20 years Martindale-Hubbell, through its Peer Review RatingsTM program, has consistently ranked David Rapoport as AV® PreeminentTM, its highest professional rating. This is a testament to Mr. Rapoport's abilities as an attorney and commitment to maintaining the highest ethical standards. Mr. Rapoport has also been selected by Thompson Reuters, another prominent legal publisher, as an Illinois “Super Lawyer” every year since the inception of the Super Lawyer program. Super Lawyer designation is limited to the top 5 percent of lawyers in a state in any given year. Since 1990, David Rapoport has been board certified* in Civil Trial Advocacy by the National Board of Trial Advocacy ("NBTA"), the oldest and largest not-for-profit American Bar Association accredited trial attorney certification program. Attorneys with NBTA certification have proven ability in their field through specialized written examinations and meeting rigorous criteria for trial experience and ethical ratings. Mr. Rapoport has proven his currency and substantial trial experience through NBTA recertification in 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010. David Rapoport has served as a leader of the movement to encourage board certification for trial lawyers for more than twenty years. Currently he is the President of the National Board of Trial Advocacy and its parent organization the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification. He recently explained: "In this era of Wild West style minimally regulated lawyer advertising, it has never been more important for the public to have easy and reliable means of identifying members of the small fraction of practicing attorneys who truly have substantial experience trying cases. Board certification programs help consumers of legal services make more informed choices. Too many lawyers are out there claiming to have substantial trial experience when in truth they have never tried a case. Board certified trial lawyers have proven their substantial trial experience in ways the public can trust." Mr. Rapoport is a member of the President's Club and Leader's Forum of the American Association for Justice and the state trial lawyer associations in Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky. He is also a member of the Economic Club of Chicago. * Board certification is not required to practice law in Illinois and the Illinois Supreme Court does not recognize specialties in the practice of law.