Let’s get on track with body cams

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Momentum had been building in Indiana for the use of body cams by police departments, a welcomed use of technology that can increase government transparency and police accountability. Now that momentum has been slowed by a new law passed by the General Assembly.

The legislation, which went into effect July 1, sets guidelines for footage, including retention limits and when and how such video should be released publicly.

Police say the guidelines make use of body cams more expensive than they had expected. Adding to the expense is a requirement that police obscure private information, such as the identities of minors and victims of sexual crimes. Police will have to spend money on image-altering software and training for officers to use it.

Two police departments in southern Indiana — Clarksville and Jeffersonville — have suspended their use of body cams because of the added expense, and other departments are proceeding cautiously and having second thoughts.

Evansville, for example, won’t suspend its camera program, but Capt. Andy Chandler warned that the department might have to curtail other services. “It’s definitely a hardship,” he said. “We are already scrambling trying to figure out how we’re going to pay and cover these.”

This is a situation calling for discussion and compromise. A lot of the misgivings on the part of police likely come from the mere fact that this is new technology. But legislators ought to be willing to listen to legitimate concerns and see if there are changes that can be made.

If it’s just a matter of money, that can be worked out. Police agencies can look into partnerships with private companies. The state can help out (aren’t state officials always complaining about unfunded mandates from the federal government?).

Body cams can become one of the most useful tools police departments have. They can greatly aid in investigations by preserving evidence.

More important, they can build up the public’s trust in the police. No longer will there be encounters for which we have to consider two conflicting eyewitness accounts. The record will be right there to consult. Some studies show that departments that use body cameras use force less often.

Body cameras are a great innovation with great benefits for the public. Let’s find a way to make this work.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.