- Associated Press - Friday, August 21, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - As Utah looks at regulating police use of body cameras, lawmakers are planning competing proposals that would either set specific rules about how and when to use the cameras or to allow police to set their own rules.

Police departments should have leeway to create their own policies because police in big cities like Salt Lake City will have different abilities and needs than police in small, rural cities like LaVerkin, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said this week.

Thatcher is working on a bill he’d like lawmakers to take up next year that would require any department that’s going to use body cameras to come up with and publically share their rules regarding body cameras, according to reports in the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune.

At an hearing Wednesday of an interim legislative committee specializing in law enforcement issues, Thatcher told lawmakers that he has met with police and civil liberties groups as he works on his legislation, which has not yet been publically released.

Critics say that giving departments too much flexibility could lead to a patchwork of conflicting rules and distrust of police.

Rep. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, has an alternative bill in the works that would spell out when police should turn on a camera, how long to keep the video and when they should publically release it.

So far, 19 states have passed laws or resolutions regarding police use of body cameras, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, who serves as the president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said most police departments want to use the small cameras, which are often clipped to an officer’s chest or sunglasses.

But Ross told lawmakers that if the state sets onerous rules, many departments may opt not to buy the equipment after all.

Ross said police like the transparency the cameras would bring, but there are privacy concerns lawmakers need to consider.

“The most constant message that we receive is that our residents do not want to have the worst times of their lives played out on the 6 and 10 news,” he said, according to an audio recording of Wednesday’s hearing.

Ross said there will be times in disputed cases such as police shootings where video needs to be released but, he said, “I don’t think any of us want the neighbor up the street to go make a request for a video to go see what happened at Tom’s house and find out that we were involved in some domestic dispute.”

Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said that it could create public distrust of officers if police are free to set their own rules about when they use body cameras, particularly if each city has different rules, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Utah Highway Patrol Col. Danny Fuhr said outfitting all 9,000 police officers in the state will be expensive. Fuhr said it would cost his department $3 million to issue body cameras to its 450 state troopers, according to the Deseret News.


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