When should police body camera video be made public?

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INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 29, 2015) – Indiana lawmakers pushed forward a debate Tuesday on whether to limit the public’s access to police body camera video.

West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski told lawmakers in the year since his department equipped officers with body cameras, the number of police incidents involving force has dropped dramatically, from 29 in 2013 before cameras were used to seven this year.

“Well the proof is in the pudding there,” Dombkowski said in an interview. “I have to believe everybody behaves differently when they know they’re on camera.”

Lawmakers are considering whether that proof should be made public, weighing the privacy rights of Hoosiers captured on police body cameras with the need for police transparency involving arrests, use of force or high-profile investigations.

“We’ve got to protect the rights and privacy of everybody while still discharging our duty as the guardians of society,” David Wantz said, interim director of public safety for the city of Indianapolis.

The ACLU of Indiana testified that while it generally opposes government surveillance, police body cameras are different, providing accountability for both the officers and public.

“Videos that are newsworthy or otherwise of public importance, such as showing a shooting or other significant use of force, should be made public,” Jane Henegar said, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana.

Police departments across the state are looking to lawmakers for guidance and a set of statewide rules on when to record, delete and release videos captured by police.

“We always have to be mindful of privacy rights and that I think will be a big focus of making sure the public has access to as much as possible, and an element of necessity to protect the privacy rights of the public as well,” Dombkowski said.

Lawmakers are responding to a growing number of departments looking to equip officers with cameras.

West Lafayette was one of two Indiana cities, along with Fort Wayne, that just received federal dollars to expand programs.

Indianapolis, which applied, did not receive any federal funds, likely shutting the door on a department-wide program next year.

“It is absolutely a goal for us to get all of our uniformed officers to be outfitted with cameras,” Wantz said.

Lawmakers will take Tuesday’s testimony as they discuss and prepare recommendations for the legislature this upcoming session, beginning in January.

The recommendations will frame potential legislation and regulations on who should be able to see police body camera video and when.

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