Legislative Watch

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s main legislative priorities for the 2021 General Assembly session focus on greater openness in law enforcement — and how such transparency can strengthen our democracy and promote justice.

Ga. Speaker of the House David Ralston makes his way through the chamber on the 2021 General Assembly’s opening day, Jan. 11. Photo courtesy of Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder.

In recent years, police dashboard cameras and body cameras have become nearly ubiquitous, and the recordings they make have become increasingly important in helping the public understand and assess situations where officers have used force. Yet under current Georgia law, these videos don’t have to be disclosed to the public until the investigation of an incident is complete. In some cases, disclosure of the videos may not happen until years after an incident takes place. This erodes both the public’s right to know and citizens’ trust in law enforcement.

The foundation is encouraging lawmakers to take action in this legislative session by:

  • Adding a time limit on how long information obtained during an investigation into a complaint against a law enforcement or correctional officer or a law enforcement agency can be withheld from the public. We believe such records should be released at the earliest of either (1) when the investigation has concluded or (2) 180 days after the submission of the complaint that triggered the investigation.
  • Setting clear requirements for releasing police video to the public and to crime victims, specifying privacy considerations that would justify withholding such video.

Our society functions best when the public has free and open access to information about what our government is doing. The General Assembly has codified this guiding principal in Georgia’s Sunshine Laws. It is now time to update these laws to ensure Georgians have greater access to video recordings of police officers using force.

This is something that even those in law enforcement believe would be a change for the better. For example, during a GFAF panel discussion in October, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds told the audience that, in his view, waiting until an investigation or prosecution has ended to release video of police activity, potentially years after the incident, is not healthy for our society. He said it is not the way things should work.

Increasing transparency around police videos would mean greater accountability for law enforcement agencies and foster public confidence in our institutions. The foundation is working to educate lawmakers and stakeholders about the importance of transforming these ideals into law in Georgia.

We are interested in your feedback about our legislative goals. Please share your comments with us at info@gfaf.org and keep up with our news on this Legislative Watch page, as well as via Twitter @Ga_FAF and on Facebook. Check out foundation updates and GFAF in the news. And sign up for our e-newsletters.