Police departments across Indiana increasingly use body cameras to record officers’ interactions with the public. The recordings are used for investigative purposes and to record actions by both officers and individuals in case questions arise later.
Since body cameras are a new technology, state law doesn’t have any specific rules on how police should use them, such as what officers should record, who has access to videos and how long files need to be kept before they’re deleted. That means police departments must set those rules themselves.
So state lawmakers want to set up some basic rules for all law enforcement agencies in Indiana to follow to create some consistency.
State Rep. John Price, R-Greenwood, has filed a bill asking state lawmakers to set up a summer study committee, which would gather information about body cameras. Lawmakers could then work with attorneys, judges, state public access officials, media, police departments and the public to hear their wants and concerns and then create statewide rules for consideration in the 2016 legislative session.
His bill suggests the committee consider whether certain videos can be kept confidential, whether police could redact and edit parts of video to protect personal information or identities of bystanders and who can make a public records request for police videos.
A summer study committee is a wise move. Statewide standards would give police departments firm guidance about when to record, what to record and how long to keep the recordings. Uniform standards would benefit all departments. Then, after the committee concludes its work, a bill can be introduced during the next session of the General Assembly.
For guidance, legislators should look at the standards developed by the Greenwood Police Department, which has a detailed policy setting out what officers should record, how long different types of files need to be kept and when the media or public can view the videos.
Under Greenwood’s policies, some video can be released to the media or the public, but any requests would be considered by the police chief’s office before being sent out. The policy states that evidence, recordings of juvenile offenders or sexual assault victims or videos taken in a non-public area would not be released. Videos also will be kept for different amounts of time depending on what they depict. A car accident with no injuries would be kept for 90 days, while a felony arrest will be saved at least five years, and a homicide or officer injury will be kept indefinitely.
According to the policy, officers don’t have to record their entire shift but are supposed to turn the cameras on in 10 specified situations, such as vehicle stops, searches of buildings or vehicles, suspect interviews and arrests, pursuits or any situation where a person becomes adversarial with an officer.
The study committee is a good way to approach the issue and gather the most input. Finding a balance among the public’s right to know, individual privacy and law enforcement needs will take more time than is normally available during the legislative session.
We encourage the General Assembly to act on Price’s proposal and move the state a major step closer to uniform guidelines on the use of police body cameras.
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There are no statewide standards on the use of police body cameras.
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Creating a legislative summer study committee would allow lawmakers to craft an effective set of standards.