MONTGOMERY — Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted down legislation on Wednesday requiring law enforcement to release body camera footage within 30 days of a request by a member of the public.

Under existing law, a recording made by a body-worn camera or dashboard camera used by law enforcement agencies may only be disclosed to an individual or a personal representative of an individual whose image or voice is the subject of the recording. 

The bill by State Sen. Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) would allow a recording made by a body-worn camera or dashboard camera used by law enforcement to be considered a public record, making the recording subject to public inspection. The bill would require a law enforcement agency to release the recording within 30 days of the request.

Senators in the committee voted down the measure by a 4-8 margin. 

Coleman said at the Wednesday meeting, “This piece of legislation is not an indictment of law enforcement.” 

“My legislation would allow it to come out within 30 days so again we can identify those bad actors and give these families some sense of relief and ultimately justice,” Coleman said.

State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) said, “I don’t see problems with the family seeing it whenever they want to. It can be the next day. But to release it out here into the world? No.” 

“I think that there’s no way that you’re going to have an equitable trial,” Smitherman said.

State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said, “The days can be quibbled about but what gives me some solace in the bill is that if there’s a dispute between law enforcement saying, ‘Hey, this is going to compromise our investigation.’ We just go to the circuit judge and let them decide so we’ve got an independent arbiter of well it may hurt the defense or it may hurt the prosecution…whatever we involve the judge and let the judge decide.” 

“But we don’t run into stonewalling of just the video camera because we just don’t want to give it up. I think you’re addressing the issue,” Orr said.

State Sen. Lance Bell (R-Pell City) said, “I’m just thinking of cases I’ve been involved in, even as a defense attorney representing someone. There are many times I don’t want that out because it will hurt me and my defense of someone.” 

“It goes both ways. I understand that there should be a mechanism for the family to be able to see what happened. I can think of two cases, one I’m currently involved in, that if the body cam got out early, it would have hurt both sides bad based on that body cam,” Bell said.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.