Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, is working to provide an amendment to her legislation on body cameras that was signed into law during the 2023 legislative session.
The bill, HB289, went into effect on Sept. 1 and it gives subjects of body camera footage or specific representatives the ability to request to see the footage. However, law enforcement is allowed to deny a request at their discretion and is not obligated to provide a reason for the denial.
Givan said the legislation that passed is not everything she wanted but it was the first step to get something in law at least for families and individuals involved in body cam incidents. Due to the current configuration of the legislature, any body cam legislation brought by Democrats seeking transparency is likely going to be dramatically scaled down because conservatives are largely averse to making body cameras public record.
But Givan, who said she has been working on this issue alongside Republicans for five years, is adamant about continuing to pursue legislation that increases transparency although it may come slowly. Givan’s latest drafted legislation will now provide new provisions the lawmaker believes will amend some issues with the passed legislation.
There are three primary provisions outlined in Givan’s newest additive including:
- During an ongoing active law enforcement investigation or prosecution, the disclosure of
body-worn or dashboard recording may not be delayed unless the disclosure would
substantially interfere with the ongoing investigation or prosecution.
- If a law enforcement agency determines disclosure of the recording would substantially
interfere with the ongoing investigation or prosecution, the agency shall notify the
requestor and continue to reassess the necessity of the withholding and notify the
requestor of the status of the withholding every 30 days.
- Under no circumstances may a disclosure be delayed more than six months from the date
of the request.
“HB41 is a further enhancement to get us closer to true and fair transparency,” Givan said.
Recently, there have been several major incidents in Alabama involving police killing Black people and the families of the individual’s not being able to see the body camera footage or having to wait months to see it.
This issue also prompted another lawmaker, Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, to announce her own legislation last week targeting the issue of body camera transparency. However, according to Givan and even Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, Coleman’s legislation is purely political.
Coleman and Givan are both running for the District 2 congressional seat. Figures’ son, Shomari Figures, is also running in that race. However, Givan said her criticism of Coleman has nothing to do with her campaign but rather that Coleman went against the norms of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Typically, according to both Givan and Figures, if another lawmaker in the caucus is working on an issue area they give them the courtesy of notifying that lawmaker if it is okay to present similar legislation. Givan said Coleman did not do her that courtesy as she has been working on this issue for five years and that what Coleman did was, “ratchet, reckless, ridiculous and ruthless.”
Givan said that Coleman has also potentially made it harder to pass and discuss body camera legislation with the Republican lawmakers. Coleman’s bill would make body cameras public record but Givan said that is an automatic no for most Republicans and will stifle any conversations on the issue.
Givan said she was primarily hurt because Coleman did to her what Republicans do to Democratic lawmakers and attempt to usurp legislation.
“I clutched my pearls in disbelief and dismay and disappointment,” Givan said. “It was the realization that she did to me what the Republicans do to us when they take or usurp legislation that we’ve been working on tirelessly, it’s really disappointing.”
As the legislative session draws near the issue of body cameras is going to remain a hot topic.