Should police departments be able to withhold body camera video?

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INDIANAPOLIS (Feb. 10, 2016) – The Senate Judiciary Committee is poised to make a number of changes to a bill that would allow police departments to withhold police video from the public.

Committee members debated the measure at a hearing on Wednesday.

“I heard clearly my husband screaming,” Debbie Long told lawmakers.

Her husband, Mack Long, was shot-to-death by IMPD officers last year. The shooting was captured by a police body camera. But only portions of the video have been made public.

“There is information in that video that clearly paints a complete different story of what happened versus what IMPD told that day,” Long said.

The questions before lawmakers center on who should have access to police video – both from body cameras and dashboard cameras – and when that video should be made public.

“I want to take this moment to thank Mrs. Long for her testimony today,” Chief Jason Dombkowski said, with the West Lafayette Police Department. “We want to get this right. We in law enforcement have asked the legislature for some guidance in this area.”

The proposal before lawmakers, in House Bill 1019 which has already passed the House, would allow police departments to withhold videos and for a judge to ultimately to decide.

“There’s some things I just don’t need to see,” State Rep. Kevin Mahan (R-Hartford City) said, a former law enforcement official. “There’s some things you don’t need to see. And quite frankly, I feel strongly there’s some things the media doesn’t need to see.”

Changes being proposed in the Senate committee would require police to justify why withholding the video is in the public’s best interest, as opposed to the public having to justify why the video should be released.

Supporters note the need to protect the privacy of Hoosiers, while finding the delicate balance between privacy and transparency.

“We absolutely want to do the right thing here,” Dombkowski said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on an amended version of the bill next week before it heads to the full Senate.

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