Under a bill authored by State. Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, law enforcement agencies would be able to decide what police videos from body camera and patrol car cameras could be released to the public.

The preliminary draft of  Indiana House Bill 1019  proposes that law enforcement agencies will release video footage at their own discretion.

Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for Hoosier State Press Association, said the bill would put the media at the mercy of what law enforcement agencies want the public to see.

“What this bill does is hand all the records to law enforcement as far as the release of cruiser or body camera footage,” Key said. “It creates a category that says they can use the footage at their own discretion and keep it confidential without pretext to protect an ongoing investigation.”

Key said the proposed bill, a product of the Regulatory Reform Committee that met three times during summer 2015, was considered to be a work in progress by members of the committee.

“I think a lot of the members thought the bill was a work in progress, but wanted to spark something to get the bill filed in this legislative session,” he said. “I would call this a hurried approach to draft something. When the committee meets on Tuesday I hope they take that draft and move forward.”

Key said the Hoosier State Press Association will be attending the committee hearing and is seeking major changes to the bill.

“There are a multitude of reasons for them to not make a video recording available, but the only incentive for them to make it available is when it makes the law enforcement agency look good to the public,” Key said. “The burden will not be on the agency. It will be on the individual or public to convince a judge that the recording should be released. The concern from law enforcement is that they don’t want to be in the situation where they have to constantly go to court to fight it.”

Mahan said that because the use of body cameras has evolved into something that most agencies are embracing, there is a need for guidelines to be put in place.

“These body cameras are relatively new to law enforcement and the public and this will be a work in progress,” Mahan said. “This bill does leave discretion up to law enforcement and that’s a concern, but we have to have the best interests of the public in mind.”

According to Mahan, a former Blackford County sheriff, the meeting between the committee and Hoosier State Press Association will be an opportunity to hear from both sides of the issue.

“The democratic process needs to take place here and the bills needs to be given a fair hearing,” he said. “The public needs to know things that are going on, but there’s an aspect of timing involved in every situation. I know the media gets upset and they want everything right now, but anytime we are dealing with legislation we are doing everything we can to benefit the public.”

Mahan said he will keep an open mind and listen to testimonies that are given during the committee hearing at the Indiana State House on Tuesday.

Marion Police Chief Angela Haley said some members of the community are asking about body cameras.

“We are in the earliest stages of researching body cameras within our department,” Haley said. “The benefit of a body camera is that is tapes an incident while it is happening and gives evidence to support reports.”

According to Haley, equipment is an ongoing challenge for any department.

“From technology to vehicles, any type of equipment is going to be expensive and we have to operate within our budget,” she said. “It’s going to take time to research the available technology and policies surrounding body cameras.”   

Copyright © 2019 Chronicle-Tribune