If you’re stopped for speeding in Greenwood, the officer writing you a ticket will be recording you with a small camera attached to the uniform.
The officer doesn’t need to tell you that you’re being recorded, and that video will be kept on file for up to a year. But the choice of whether you can view the video or get a copy would be up the chief and depends on the case and people involved.
Police officers across the state increasingly use body cameras to record investigations, crimes and interactions with people, but for now the rules for how to use them are up to individual departments.
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So state lawmakers want to set up some basic rules for all law enforcement agencies in Indiana to follow to create some consistency.
Since body cameras are a new technology, state law doesn’t have any specific rules on how police should use them, such as what officers should record, who has access to videos and how long files need to be kept before they’re deleted.
That means police departments must set those rules themselves, trying to decide what’s appropriate or crafting policies similar to other types of video such as from in-car cameras.
State Rep. John Price, R-Greenwood, has filed a bill asking state lawmakers to set up a summer study committee, which would gather information about body cameras. Lawmakers could then work with attorneys, judges, state public access officials, media, police departments and the public to hear their wants and concerns and then create statewide rules for consideration in the 2016 legislative session.
Statewide legislation would help Johnson County police departments that already use body cameras. Greenwood, which is the first local department to equip all road officers with a body camera, has a detailed policy setting out what officers should record, how long different types of files need to be kept and when the media or public can view the videos. But the sheriff’s office, which uses a few cameras, does not.
‘A developing technology’
Greenwood pulled examples of policies from two communities on what they do, but few police departments have written rules because body cameras are so new, Greenwood Police Chief John Laut said. Greenwood has been discussing body cameras for more than two years since the city got rid of all of its in-car cameras, so administrators have had plenty of time to discuss and refine ideas, Laut said. Still, he expects the policy will be tweaked as body cameras become more commonplace.
“We’ve done the best we can. This is a developing technology. I spoke with Rep. Price, too, and there’s going to be changes made. It’s coming. It’s new, we’re at the forefront of it,” Laut said.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, however, doesn’t have as many details worked out. Deputies aren’t required to use cameras and are allowed to record at their discretion. Files are being kept indefinitely at this point until he gets some guidance from the state, Sheriff Doug Cox said.
“There are (no policies) in place right now,” he said. “We’ve got guys that use them a lot, and some guys that don’t use them.”
Cox has considered buying new cameras and requiring road officers to use them, but he said he’s holding off until he knows what kind of state laws will regulate their use, including how long the recordings must be kept.
“There are a lot of pros on these things and also a lot of cons. Storage of these videos, one of the big questions I had is public access or how long we have to hold these. There are a lot of questions that are unanswered. I’m not going to spend $50,000 or $100,000 if they tell us you’re never going to be able to get rid of any video you take. That’s going to be a huge problem,” Cox said.
‘Kind of flying blind’
Local police departments had spoken with Price about their concerns and questions on body cameras, so he offered to take those issues to the statehouse this year. Instead of trying to set guidelines for body cameras himself, Price decided the study committee would be the best way to get input from everyone who would have an interest in how body cameras are being used.
His bill suggests the committee consider whether certain videos can be kept confidential, whether police could redact and edit parts of video to protect personal information or identities of bystanders and who can make a public records request for police videos.
“I’m looking from a public safety standpoint. I want to hear from the media. I want to hear from the (American Civil Liberties Union) and attorneys and prosecutors and put together something that’s going to be good. It can still be a work in progress that’s updated in the future, rather than having the agencies having a hodgepodge,” Price said.
The study committee is a good way to approach the issue and gather the most input, Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said. Britt, who advises governments and residents on questions about access to public records, has been telling police departments across the state to treat body camera videos similar to video from in-car cameras. Those videos typically don’t have to be given to the public because they can be considered evidence, but police can release videos at their own discretion.
“Right now we really are kind of flying blind,” Britt said. “What I’ve been telling law enforcement is that in the absence of any other code section or enacted legislation to treat it as they would their in-car dash cameras. So those would most likely fall under what’s considered an investigatory record or general routine surveillance video. That’s kind of my best practice in the absence of anything concrete.”
Finding a balance
Specific rules for how long videos should be saved need to be set up, and some videos should be accessible to the public, such as if private individuals make complaints about police behavior, Britt said. Finding a balance between what can and cannot be released will be important, otherwise police departments could become buried with requests to produce videos that would require staff to review, pull and copy for viewing, Britt said.
Under Greenwood’s policies, some video can be released to the media or the public, but any requests would be considered by the police chief’s office before being sent out. The policy states that evidence, recordings of juvenile offenders or sexual assault victims or videos taken in a non-public area would not be released. Videos also will be kept for different amounts of time depending on what they depict. A car accident with no injuries would be kept for 90 days, while a felony arrest will be saved at least five years, and a homicide or officer injury will be kept indefinitely.
According to the policy, officers don’t have to record their entire shift but are supposed to turn the cameras on in 10 specified situations, such as vehicle stops, searches of buildings or vehicles, suspect interviews and arrests, pursuits or any situation where a person becomes adversarial with an officer.
The Greenwood Police Department has a detailed written policy about how officers are supposed to use body cameras. Here’s a look at the rules officers will follow:
When you’re being recorded
Officers aren’t required to tell you you’re being recorded but should inform a person whenever possible. Officers will record all contact in the following situations:
- Traffic stops
- Person stops
- Detentions, investigations, arrests, suspect interviews and interrogations
- People, building or vehicle searches
- K-9 officer searches
- Emergency driving when using lights or lights and sirens
- Any contact that becomes adversarial
Who has access
Requests for video from the public, media, prosecutors and attorneys will be considered by the assistant chief of police and police chief’s office and released based on access rules in Indiana law. Video and audio that generally won’t be released include:
- Recordings of juvenile offenders
- Recordings obtained in a non-public area such as homes or non-public areas of business
- Video showing a victim of sexual assault that would give away the victim’s identity
- Video showing other people whose identity is confidential by law
- Any video/audio that depicts a legitimate privacy concern
How long videos are kept
Videos that are unlabeled in the police system will be automatically deleted after 30 days. Videos that are labeled as depicting certain types of incidents will be kept for the following amounts of time:
- Four weeks — training demos
- 90 days — property-damage vehicle accidents
- One year — non-criminal cases and traffic citations
- Three years — misdemeanor arrests and vehicle crashes with injuries
- Five years — felony arrests and officer use of force
- Indefinitely — Homicide, officer injury and cases pending review
SOURCE: Greenwood Police Department