A Fine Example of Why the Public Needs Access to Dashboard Cam Video…

A state FOI law working just as it should:

Police video recorded the night a young man was fatally shot in a northeast Arkansas patrol car while his hands were cuffed behind his back hasn’t resolved questions about whether he shot himself in the head as officers said.

Jonesboro police released footage to The Associated Press and other news organizations under a Freedom of Information Act request this week. They released more footage Friday amid questions about why the first batch of video appeared to end before the officers found Chavis Carter, 21, slumped over and bleeding in the back of a patrol car on July 28 as described in a police report. Police have said officers had frisked Carter twice without finding a gun.

Police said the second batch of video occurred after Carter was discovered, but that footage wasn’t immediately available in its entirety.

“There’s still nothing in there about what actually happened with Chavis,” Benjamin Irwin, a Memphis-based lawyer representing Carter’s family, said Friday before the second batch of video had been released.

An Emotional But Wrongheaded Proposal…

No one, for even a moment, wants to downplay or minimize the death of a police officer. But this sort of thing is a slippery, slippery slop, as the Columbus Dispatch points out:

State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Fairlawn, plans to introduce a bill to that effect, banning release of the dash-cam video in any incident in which a police officer is killed. Someone posted a suggestion for the legislation on LaRose’s Facebook page, coupled with criticism of the senator for voting for Senate Bill 5, which limits collective-bargaining by public employees. The Fraternal Order of Police has been on the warpath against lawmakers who voted for the bill, recently pulling its endorsement of lead sponsor Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro.

LaRose agreed with the constituent’s idea, saying that he wants to ensure that the families of officers killed in view of cameras never have to confront that footage anywhere.

The senator says he wants to balance the officers’ right to privacy with First Amendment concerns, and is considering allowing police to redact the moment of death while still releasing the video, or else requiring people to go somewhere to view the video – no copies.

This is a perilous path. Once police are allowed to redact that portion of video, not much stands in the way of arguing that incidents in which an officer is injured should be off-limits. Or perhaps when anyone is killed or injured. This would put these most vital functions of public-safety forces off-limits to public scrutiny.