MONTPELIER — Law enforcement will create rules governing the use of body cameras, but a last-minute amendment means those rules will be reviewed and approved by the General Assembly.
On Thursday, House lawmakers gave final approval to a bill to create a statewide standard for the way police use body cameras, and the way that information will be used and shared with the public.
Senate Bill 174 calls for the Law Enforcement Advisory Board — which is part of the state Department of Public Safety — to create a model policy for the use of body cameras by Dec. 15 of this year.
Law enforcement agencies will have until July 1, 2017, to either adopt the model policy or create their own policies that meet the minimum standards established by the board. Police departments that do not use body cameras will be exempt from this requirement.
The model policy will address when a police officer should wear a body camera, when the camera should be turned on or off, and when video will be considered exempt from public-record requests.
The bill was the subject of spirited debate Wednesday, with some lawmakers concerned with the idea of letting police set their own policy without any oversight.
“I see a significant opportunity for losses of civil liberties without guarantee of legislative oversight of the proposed recommendations,” said Rep. James McCullough, D-Williston.
Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, also called for greater oversight.
“A model policy for law enforcement use of body cameras must reflect the appropriate balance between protecting the needs of law enforcement and protecting the privacy needs of Vermont citizens,” Lippert said. “Achieving this balance requires not only review by the appropriate legislative committees, but also requires review and final approval of the full Legislature.”
On Thursday, House lawmakers adopted an amendment to the bill requiring any policy created by the Law Enforcement Advisory Board to be subject to the approval of the General Assembly.
Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the ACLU, said his organization supports the additional legislative oversight, as well as the use of body cameras by police in general.
Also, Gilbert said he hopes the model policy will be guided by the state’s public records law, which was revised four years ago to give more detailed criteria governing dissemination of police records.
“We really think that body cams can improve police accountability,” Gilbert said. “But it’s not that it just improves accountability. It tells the public a story about policing that gives us and the public a fuller explanation of what police do and how difficult their jobs can be. Police body cams work for the police as much as they work for the public.”