- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A bill that would impose statewide rules for police body cameras in Nebraska is stoking a debate over how and when the recordings should be made public.

A legislative committee heard testimony Thursday on a bill by Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha requiring law enforcement agencies that choose to utilize body cameras to adopt specific policies and would allow police to withhold that footage from public record if it is part of an investigation.

Mello said many Nebraska agencies already use body cameras, but standards vary in scope and detail. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have some kind of body camera law.

The bill would require the recordings to be stored for a minimum of 90 days and would ensure each law enforcement agency have written policies detailing training and procedure for when the camera should be turned on.

Opponents say body cameras are meant for accountability, so the recordings should be completely open to the public. The measure could allow law enforcement to classify any record as investigatory and withhold it for any length of time, said Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers.

“I don’t trust the police to have the final word,” he said.

Walter Radcliffe a lobbyist for Media of Nebraska the coalition of media in the state that he represents was most concerned that the footage would be classified as public record. Radcliffe said Media of Nebraska accepted the measure’s investigatory standard, but said the exact termination of an investigation could be unclear.

Beatrice Police Chief Bruce Lang testified in opposition on behalf of the Police Chiefs Association of Nebraska. Lang said “nuts and bolts” policies for new devices should be recommended through the Nebraska Crime Commission, not the Legislature, because they will need to be adjusted over time.

“What we know is that technology changes much faster than the Legislature changes laws,” Lang said.

Greg Gonzalez, a deputy chief of the Omaha Police Department said body cameras are effective in promoting good behavior from officers and citizens. But Gonzalez said the department is concerned about the millions of dollars it could cost the department to store large amounts of footage.

The bill is LB 1000.

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