Denise Marcelle Blows Up Her Own Task Force On Police Body Cameras

Amid the popular push to install body cameras on law enforcement officers following incidents like the Alton Sterling shooting, the Louisiana Legislature wanted to make some positive changes that would improve transparency and ultimately strengthen the relationship between the officers and the citizens they serve to protect. A task force was therefore formed to conduct research and make suggestions for future policies concerning the use of body cameras. This task force had essentially drawn its conclusion, but last year’s sponsor of the bill re-implementing the task force now wants to make some cuts to the membership in the force, removing both Civil Rights groups as well as the attorneys who represent those accused.

This move has naturally prompted some confusion. But we got access to the most recent draft of the task force’s conclusion, and it appears what happened was the sponsor of last year’s legislation renewing the task force was unhappy with her team’s resolution.

In the 2015 session, HCR 180 – sponsored by then Representatives Dalton Honore (D-Baton Rouge) and Sharon Weston Broome (D-Baton Rouge) – passed, creating the Louisiana Law Enforcement Body Camera Implementation Task Force. The task force was responsible for studying the use of body cameras in order to make the proper recommendations concerning policies for the use of such cameras as well as how their recordings are to be accessed. The task force first met in December of 2015 for organizational purposes, but were unable to meet before the regular session in 2016.

So that they could continue their work, HCR 59 – this time sponsored by Rep. Denise Marcelle (D-Baton Rouge) – was passed in the 2016 regular session to renew the responsibilities of the task force. They met a few times in 2016 to conduct research and discuss the matter at hand, and in February they had just about finished up their report to be submitted before this year’s regular session.

But this report was never released, apparently because of time-restraints on meeting to solidify recommendations on one final topic, so Sen. Bodi White (R-Central) sponsored this session’s renewal of the task force. And this time around, Rep. Marcelle had some amendments in mind, which would significantly downsize the composition of the task force.

The Advocate reports that groups like the ACLU, the NAACP, the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters, the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, and the state public defender would no longer maintain representation in the task force. The force originally consisted of 23 members, 3 of whom were legislators, but the amendment proposed by Rep. Marcelle tacks on six more. It additionally rescinds membership from the Attorney General’s office, the District Attorney’s Association, the Louisiana Supreme Court, LSU and Southern University police departments, the Louisiana Municipal Association, Louisiana State Police, and the Secretary of State, and maintains representation of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, the Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Louisiana Fraternal Order of Police, reported by The Advocate.

Why make such a drastic reduction and replace previous members with legislators? Rep. Marcelle claims that there was too much discord amongst the group and that this should ultimately be the responsibility of legislators, since they’re the ones who write policy. But this comes as a surprise to several current members of the task force, which raised our suspicion.

We took it upon ourselves to go through the task force’s unreleased final draft of recommendations, and it seems as though there may be a different reason why Rep. Marcelle took matters into her own hands. The group ultimately concluded that “the policies regarding the use and training of law enforcement officers related to body cameras should be at the discretion of the law enforcement administrators as opposed to being addressed through the legislative process.”

That isn’t what Marcelle wanted the group’s report to say.

For several reasons, mostly regarding cost-efficiency, the task force believes that each law enforcement agency should be left to its own discretion concerning the particulars of the body camera implementation since each agency varies in its ability to pursue such a costly endeavor.

It seems as though this reduction of legislative power may have displeased Rep. Marcelle. Her changes, however, have displeased some members of the force, one in particular being her co-chair – criminal defense attorney Franz Borghart – who would be removed from the task force if her amendment were to pass. According to The Advocate, he was blindsided by the decision, and he had quite a few thoughts on the matter:

“I’m at a loss, because a representative who holds herself to be a civil rights leader has just removed all the civil rights advocates from this task force,” he said.

Borghardt said many of the people excluded from the group are concerned about privacy rights, transparency and the rights of the accused.

“If you take out civil rights, the press and the ACLU and all you’re left with are legislators and law enforcement, then isn’t that one sided?” he said. “Is there a point of even having a task force at that point?”

He further disagreed with her assertion that the group was too dysfunctional to get work done. Of course, what seems obvious is his definition of the task force’s work is different from hers – she was looking for a specific result that an objective review of the facts simply doesn’t support.

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