MADISON, Wis. — In many cases, police officer body camera footage is withheld from the public until active investigations are complete.
But in the case of this week’s shooting in which Officer Kim Potter shot and killed Daunte Wright, the Brooklyn Center Police Department released Potter’s body camera footage the next day. Potter claims she meant to draw her Taser and not her gun.
We contacted Jim Palmer, the head of Wisconsin’s largest police union, to see why the video footage of the Brooklyn Center shooting was available so quickly, while authorities have waited months to release body camera footage of other incidents.
Palmer says laws in Minnesota and Wisconsin are similar in that body camera footage can become public after an investigation is closed, but law enforcement agencies can release the video before the investigation is complete if they decide it is in the best interest of the public to “to promote public safety, dispel rumor or unrest.”
Wisconsin’s law is similar, Palmer says, in that body camera footage is public record, but there are exceptions in the law if the video is part of an ongoing criminal investigation or the video shows minors or victims of sensitive crimes.
“In the case of those exceptions, the law further allows agencies to balances the interests of those exceptions against the public interest favoring the release of the data,” Palmer said. “In other words, if a Wisconsin agency determines that the public interest in releasing the data outweighs the interest in support of any of the exceptions, that agency may release the data even though it may be a part of an ongoing criminal investigation.”
“The laws in both states allow law enforcement agencies to release camera footage if the public interest in releasing it outweighs its value in a criminal investigation. How an agency in either state makes that determination will and should depend on the specific facts present in any case,” Palmer said.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice says it generally withholds the body camera footage of officer shootings “to protect the integrity of the investigation.”
“Releasing video of an incident could affect witness and officer statements if it is seen prior to an interview with an investigating agent, potentially impacting the investigation,” the DOJ said in a statement.
Both Potter and Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon submitted their resignations to the city on Tuesday.