HSPA: Forget body cams if public can’t see


The state legislature’s Interim Committee on Government will receive a recommendation

Oct. 15 from a group of its members on legislation concerning the public’s access to police body camera video.

This follows six hours of testimony during two committee meetings from privacy advocates, law enforcement officials, citizens and the Hoosier State Press Association.

HSPA Executive Director and General Counsel Steve Key provided the committee with recommendations on what a preliminary draft should contain.

Committee chairman Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville; vice chairman Rep. John Price, R-Greenwood; Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis; Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis; and possibly Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, a former Blackford County sheriff; will comprise the work group tasked with boiling down the testimony into a legislative proposal.

Key’s note to the committee echoed a comment made by Taylor at the Sept. 29 committee hearing: If the public can’t access the video, you might as well not have the body cameras.

Under current law, the video falls under the “investigatory records” provision of the Access to Public Records Act, which means it can be kept confidential at the discretion of the public agency.

Key testified that HSPA experience shows if the video exonerates an officer’s actions, it will be released. Otherwise, departments lean on the investigatory records exception to avoid disclosure.

That’s been the case with cruiser cam footage in Fort Wayne and body cam footage in Evansville.

The HSPA recommendation would put video into two categories, flagged and nonflagged. The presumption for flagged video would be disclosure to the public, while unflagged would fall into the discretion of the law enforcement agency.

Flagged video would include interactions that lead to a complaint filed against an officer, where a firearm was discharged, where there has been use of force by police, where someone has been arrested or detained, where death or bodily harm has occurred, or where a request has been made under the Access to Public Records Act.

The category of the video would determine how long police would be required to retain the video.

The American Civil Liberties Union recommends 180 days for nonflagged video and three years for flagged.

HSPA’s recommendation recognizes the need for some exceptions that could be applied to flagged video: when release could harm an investigation or identify an undercover officer or informant, when a juvenile is detained, or when nudity or interactions inside a residence are involved.

HSPA recommends that when police want to invoke the investigatory records provision to flagged video, the law enforcement agency file a motion for review by the county circuit judge to determine the legitimacy of the claim.

Key noted a new argument for the use of body cameras raised by West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski.

He testified that the number of use of force incidents decreased dramatically in the year that officers have been equipped with the body cameras.

He said the presence of the cameras has impacted the behavior of people interacting with police because they know they are being filmed, so situations didn’t escalate to where an officer felt force was needed to control of the situation.