Don’t undercut reason for police cameras

South Bend Tribune

The news of growing legislative efforts to make it much harder to release police officer body camera videos is troubling.

Such efforts would seem to undermine the purpose of the cameras, which are at the heart of recent nationwide discussions about improving the relationship between police and the communities they serve. Police departments across the country are spending millions on these cameras, which protect police officers and the public by creating a record of any given incident.

A recent report by The Associated Press report said that lawmakers in at least 15 states, including Indiana and Michigan, have introduced bills to exempt video recordings of police encounters with citizens from state public records laws, or limit what can be made public. In Indiana, House Bill 1225 and Senate Bill 454 ask for a study on potential restrictions on the disclosure of video, the “scope and size of public records requests” that could be made for them, the persons eligible to make requests and the purposes for which videos may be used.

Supporters say that restrictions protect the privacy rights of crime victims and witnesses, and that police need to limit broad and costly public records requests.

While sensitive to the rights of crime victims and witnesses, we agree with open government advocates that such concerns can be addressed within existing state disclosure laws — editing out identifying details before the public release of videos, for example.

As for the costs that come with this tool, the value of body cameras may make them well worth the price — for the police as well as the public.

Video evidence could not only help to hold officers accountable for their actions, but it could shield police from unfounded lawsuits. According to a city report released last week, the use of body cameras by San Diego police has led to few complaints by residents and less use of force by officers.

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