Clear parameters for access to police body camera video must be set if the legislature wants the technology to strengthen public confidence in law enforcement.
HSPA executive director and general counsel Steve Key delivered that message to the Interim Committee on Government during its first meeting in August. Committee chairman Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, asked Key to be one of several who testified at the Statehouse.
The committee will make a recommendation to the 2016 General Assembly on how much access the public should have to body camera video.
Under current law, the videos would fall under the investigatory records provision of the Access to Public Records Act, which gives agencies the discretion to keep video footage confidential.
This also applies to police cruiser camera video.
Key provided legislators with examples of times when the investigatory records provision has been used to prevent the public from viewing video that may have shown improper behavior by police.
In July, Evansville police used the exception to keep confidential body camera footage of an interaction between police and a man using his phone to capture video of an arrest.
According to coverage by the Evansville Courier & Press, the citizen was cited for littering when he discarded a cigarette after an officer threatened to arrest him for smoking by a gas pump.
The citizen also said his smartphone was broken during the incident.
In 2007, Fort Wayne police used the exception to keep secret cruiser camera video of a police officer firing 18 shots at a Hispanic man who had been attempting to elude police.
A review of the officer’s action by the Indiana State Police found the officer acted appropriately, but the public was still denied access to the video, according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
Key recognized several issues that legislators need to address regarding body camera video, including logistics, cost and reasonable exceptions to public accessibility.
The larger the department, the more hours of raw footage are created. Meeting records requests could be a time-consuming process. Just the cost of storing hours of video may strain law enforcement budgets, Key noted.
As to exceptions, Key said areas where footage may need to be protected could include video that would identify an undercover officer, informants, juveniles and crime witnesses, and legitimate issues pertaining to an ongoing investigation.
But the legislature should make available video in cases of allegations of misconduct, use of force, or detentions, he said.
Key said police body cameras can be a tool for accountability but only if the legislature does not hamstring the public’s ability to see the footage.
The committee will meet again in September on this topic, focusing on testimony from law enforcement agencies on the technical aspects of body cameras including archiving and editing.