By Rachel Hoffmeyer
A heavily debated bill restricting the release of police body camera video is undergoing a makeover.
An early version of House Bill 1019 would have allowed law enforcement to withhold video and possibly force the media or the public to get a court order to see it. Tuesday a Senate committee changed that to shift the burden of proof for keeping the video confidential to the police as long as the video is not involved in an ongoing investigation or could interfere with a suspect’s ability to receive a fair trial.
“We’re sitting here dealing with a balance between public records, public access and also the privacy rights,” said the bill’s author Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City. “And I really think that because of all the work that’s been done, all those that are involved, we’ve reached that pretty good balance.”
The amended bill also creates an exception to allow anyone to see or copy a video if it shows excess force or a civil rights violation. While the video can be used in a court as evidence, releasing the video would not be an admission of guilt.
Law enforcement agencies have been asking for help creating guidelines, like these, for body camera video, according to the bill’s Senate sponsor Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville.
“Obviously, the technology is out there and certain departments are embracing it now,” said Bray. “We all think that’s a good thing because it provides a lot of insight, extra information as to what’s—what’s going on out there and helps with the investigation for law enforcement.”
“I want to make sure that the product that we have today is going to encourage police agencies to have these body cameras and not doing anything to cause them to either put them on the shelf or cancel their order,” said Mahan.
But the representative for the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski, still had some lingering concerns about possible due process issues.
“We usually feel those things are best determined by a judge,” he said. “We are asking for some more, real hard look at that subsection.”
“If there’s a disagreement between the press or the public and that chief of police, the court will have a look at that as well,” said Bray after the vote. “And I think that’s what can give some comfort to the Chief of Police Jason Dombkowski is that—ultimately you’ll have a judge look at that.”
The bill passed 7-1 and now moves to the full Senate for discussion. Mahan said if the legislation makes it to conference committee, he expects they can make “a good bill maybe even a little better.”
“It’s the legislative process,” said Mahan. “There’s always people out there that can always come up with some better language than maybe even what we have and I think that’s what we need to continue to focus on as this moves forward.”
Rachel Hoffmeyer is the executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.