Law puts pressure on police to prove why body camera videos shouldn’t be released

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 25, 2016)– A bill to set policies and procedures for the use of police body cameras has been amended to put pressure on law enforcement authorities to prove to a judge why the videos should not be released to the press and public.

The amendment is an important addition to legislation attempting to codify retention, access, release and recording policies and guidelines of police body cameras.

HB 1019 would direct police agencies to hold on to such body camera videos from 190 days to two years while allowing citizens captured on camera the right to view those images twice while the video remains in police custody.

Rep. Kevin Mahan, a republican from Hartford City, said he did not know if citizens would be able to petition the court to prohibit release of the video.

Police agencies would be able to deny public access to the video if its deemed to be crucial to an ongoing investigation or if the results of a criminal case involving the video were under appeal.

“There’s four items that they’re going to be judging whether it’s a safety or security for the community, whether its going to jeopardize a community, whether its going to cause a potential bias on a civil or criminal proceeding. If none of those is an issue you’re going to get that video footage,” said Mahan.

If the agency or a prosecutor restricts access to the video, Mahan said the press or a private citizen could petition to release the images and then the judge would require the authorities to persuade the court why publication of the information would be harmful to the public or the pursuit of justice.

“If it is an issue where the case is under investigation, the chief or the sheriff will have the right to withhold that recording to anyone other than the requestor,” said Mahan.  “We want to make sure we have a final disposition on the case and, in my opinion, if we have something on appeal, we don’t have a final disposition here because of the appeal process.”

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, with more than 1,500 sworn officers, is the state’s largest police agency and would be the most expensive to equip.

Chief Troy Riggs estimates he has set aside a quarter million dollars this year to begin the process of outfitting up to 300 patrol officers with body cameras, though he is predicting it would cost $1 million to equip each of the department’s 900 patrol officers and another $300,000 per year for maintenance and video storage.

“Its going to be very helpful  to have some guidelines that are being provided by the statehouse because right now we’re trying to figure out how long do we keep this type of footage,” said Riggs. “We want to make sure that we keep it long enough to be past the tort claim deadline, make sure that we have it for any litigation, but there’s a cost to that.”

Riggs said IMPD will be liberal in its release of video, erring on the side of public disclosure, confident that the public will obtain a more accurate view of the performance of police officers while the images would become a valuable training tool for the department.

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