TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas lawmakers are working to restrict public access to law enforcement body camera footage in an effort to protect the privacy of people caught on camera.
A bill introduced by the House judiciary committee last week would limit release of the video to the people in the footage, their attorneys and their parents if they are minors. The public would have access to footage only through a court order. A judge could release the recordings if it is in the public’s interest or if it wouldn’t interfere with a police investigation.
Under the current law, most of the footage is a public record available to anyone who asks for it.
Proponents say regulation would protect the public’s privacy, while a critic said the bill doesn’t go far enough to balance privacy rights and the value of the cameras as an accountability tool.
Law enforcement lobbyist Ed Klumpp was one of several proponents who testified during a hearing last week. He said the public should have limited access to footage, but the law should also guard the public’s right to privacy.
“Our concern has been the confidentiality of information and of people’s lives,” Klumpp told The Associated Press. “People should not have to share that information in open records requests with nosy neighbors.”
Micah Kubic, a lobbyist for ACLU Kansas and the only person to testify against the bill, agreed that most police footage should not be public.
But Kubic said the family of people who die during a police encounter should be able to view the footage without a court order, and that government needs to do more to balance privacy and accountability.
“Cameras are primarily intended to facilitate accountability, not just by the chain of command within law enforcement agencies but also by the public,” Kubic said in prepared testimony for the committee. “Without access to recordings, the public cannot fill this role.”
Kansas is one of about 20 states in which lawmakers have introduced bills limiting or blocking access to video recordings of police encounters with the public, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Chuck Wexler, the Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said that the bill in Kansas follows a nationwide trend in which lawmakers are seeking to strike a balance between a victim’s privacy and the public’s right to know.
“Public disclosure is encouraged because that is the intent of deploying body cameras. You want to provide the public with as much information as possible at the appropriate time,” Wexler said. He added that a video recording could also resolve false complaints against law enforcement.
A 2014 report released by the forum and Department of Justice found that the public’s access to video recordings enhanced community trust of law enforcement officers.
Several police departments in Kansas - including Wichita, Kansas City and Topeka - have equipped hundreds of field officers with body cameras during the past few years. Wichita, Dodge City and Wyandotte County were all awarded federal grants for police body cameras last fall. About half of Wichita’s officers now have cameras, with the rest set to get them.
A version of the bill passed in the Senate unanimously last year. A debate in the House committee, which heard testimony last week, has not been scheduled.
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