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Monday, January 18, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - More on "Police could refuse to release video footage in new Indiana bill"

Updating this ILB post from Jan. 13th, HB 1019 was passed out of committee on the same day and is now eligible for second reading.

The Goshen News had a long editorial on Friday, Jan. 15, headed "OUR VIEW: Public should have access to police videos." Some quotes:

The Indiana General Assembly is not known for taking progressive action, but a proposed bill to limit the public’s access to police videos falls so far short of being in touch with the nation’s accountability movement that it is astonishing.

House Bill 1019, which passed unanimously out of committee this week, greatly restricts the public’s right to view and copy recordings created by police, especially video recordings from body cameras and squad car dash cameras. This proposed law comes at a time when the public is demanding better accounting of police actions and while there is a growing effort across the country by local politicians to equip their police departments with body cameras. Those cameras both protect a police officer from nefarious allegations and lawsuits about their conduct and also holds them to a high standard of conduct. Justice is better served when police wear body cameras.

HOUSE BILL 1019 is an attempt to nullify this accountability movement. We can’t imagine why such a law is needed. * * *

STEVE KEY, the lobbyist for the Hoosier State Press Association made an excellent point about House Bill 1019 when he told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “This is a bill that leaves all the cards in law enforcement hands. If you are going to have an accountability tool you have to make it public.” We agree wholeheartedly. The public should view this bill as an attempt to limit their scrutiny of their local police departments. Let us remind our legislators, nothing good ever comes from hiding information from the public.

When viewed in its totality, we think House Bill 1019 is nothing more than an effort to protect police from public scrutiny and no legislator should ever support such an effort.

Some quotes from a news release from the Indiana Broadcasters Association:
Indianapolis, IN – January 15, 2016 – A proposal to clamp down on publicly recorded government videos is headed to a vote at the Indiana House of Representatives, in a move that could keep all public video recordings secret. Indiana House Bill 1019, which sailed through a House committee with a unanimously favorable vote, “restricts public records requests for law enforcement recordings” and requires a court order to release recorded police body camera video. The bill was introduced by Hartford City Republican Representative Kevin Mahan.

“This outrageous proposal takes government secrecy to a new level, keeping public records completely under wrap,” said Dave Crooks, chairman of the Board of the Indiana Broadcasters Association (IBA), which represents more than 300 Indiana radio and TV broadcasters. Crooks served in the Indiana General Assembly from 1996 to 2008. “As drafted, the 22-page bill would allow law enforcement agencies to refuse to share public video records and require the public to file a lawsuit against an agency, prove a need for disclosure of the video, and have those asking for the video to bear the legal costs of such a request – unless you’re actually in the video." * * *

The Indiana Broadcasters Association believes the current bill eliminates access to public video recorded by law enforcement agencies and is clearly contrary to current State of Indiana policy regarding public records that favors the release of public documents.

IBA also concurs with the Hoosier State Press Association, which says that “law enforcement has no legal incentive to make video available to the public under H.B. 1019 unless it exonerates the officer involved. The current language gives police chiefs and sheriffs carte blanche to decline all requests from the public or press solely on the basis that they don’t want to make videos available.”

From the Elkhart Truth, this editorial headed "Passing Indiana body cam bill would be a mistake." Some quotes:
The video footage being gathered from body cameras worn by police officers could be locked away and those affected by the events being recorded may never see it.

The House government committee, including State Rep. Doug Miller, R-Elkhart, voted unanimously last week to advance a bill that places the burden on those seeking video to prove that its release is merited.

It would be a mistake to make the bill Indiana law. A giant mistake. * * *

The point of cameras is to increase transparency and be used as another tool to build trust between a police department and the community it protects.

Body cameras are becoming standard issue. Departments have and will continue to gather footage, which would often show officers doing the right thing and acting responsibly to protect and serve. Yet under House Bill 1019, as it’s now phrased, a sheriff or police chief could lock down the release of any copies if the video contains something that could embarrass the department and its officers.

A family member or someone shown in the video could watch it, but if police refuse to release a copy they would have to go to court to fight to get a copy of it. Even if the victim or family of a victim won such a lawsuit, the law doesn’t afford that they’d be reimbursed for their legal costs. All this may keep justice from prevailing.

Though not in our community, relations between police and the public is tense in many areas of our country. Police video of confrontations between the two aren’t always pretty and even judging right or wrong from them can be difficult, but allowing Indiana police agencies to lock down video and force those outside the department to go to court by default is wrong.

Taxpayers pay for police protection. We now live in a world where video footage of police actions is commonplace. But where Indiana is starting on how agencies handle the footage isn’t transparent. It’s locking video in a box and then playing keep away with the key. That’s just wrong.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 18, 2016 11:02 AM
Posted to Indiana Government