Duluth suicide rescue video illustrates privacy concerns

This video from Duluth that’s been circulating for a few days ought to play right into the debate over the privacy concerns surrounding police body-camera video, but for some reason it’s not.

The video was posted on Facebook by Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay to acknowledge the fine work of officer Joe DeJesus, who tricked a young man who was so despondent that he was about to jump off a parking garage.

For sure, it’s a great tribute to a cop’s work and it probably perfectly highlights a typical day in the Duluth police department. Whatever good comments were posted to the video, which has gone viral, are certainly deserved.

But what about the kid who wanted to kill himself? How does he feel about having the most private moment in his life broadcast to the world?

The department clearly took pains to hide his face. But his voice and his clothes might make it possible to ID him. Even if it’s not, what is the impact of distributing the video on a young man’s psyche who is already on the edge?

In future incidents, how does a potential suicide situation change when the person in crisis knows that when the police show up, the cameras are rolling and the video could end up on Facebook?

These are the issues that were behind the effort to put limits on what police can do with body-cam video in Minnesota.

Last month, 16 Minnesota cities petitioned a state agency to declare that body-camera data be presumed private in most instances, the Associated Press reported.

“Unlike police squad car cameras, body-worn cameras collect video footage inside people’s homes, schools and medical facilities, where there is a reasonable privacy expectation,” Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association Executive Director Andy Skoogman wrote in a letter supporting the classification request. “These cameras capture incidents up close often during traumatic, revealing and personal incidents.”

Existing laws make some data off-limits if, for example, footage is part of a sensitive investigation or could expose children who are suspected abuse victims. But police chiefs are questioning whether those laws go far enough, and they are raising concerns that unfettered access to footage would hamper witnesses’ cooperation if they know their identities would leak out.

The effort was led by Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell, who said the police should limit access to medical or police calls responding to someone in a mental health crisis.

Last week, the state rejected the cities’ request, saying it’s a matter for state lawmakers.

The issue is complex, of course. Theoretically, a person could sign a release allowing a police department to post an incident on Facebook. But in the case of a suicidal individual, is it reasonable to expect the release to be well considered?

No matter how the questions are resolved, the police are likely to be given the leeway to keep private those videos that are “gruesome” in nature — a murder scene for instance.

No matter how much the Duluth officer’s heroic actions should be lauded, perhaps this type of situation should be included.