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CitySmart Blog

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Nathan Eisner, COO

Nathan EisnerDepending on your state, laws concerning body camera video policy, retention, and open records requests may vary. Last year, we reviewed various state laws and outlined some best practices that would apply no matter where your police department is located.

However, an interesting article from the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) pointed out some problems that exist when your state law is ambiguous or lacking clear guidance. According to the article:

“...Kentucky is one of the last states to address the need for legislation dealing with when a video recorded with the cameras should be released and who should be able to obtain a copy of the video. The lack of policy could result in fewer departments using the cameras.”

When policies are unclear, assumptions can create liability. As a result, police departments are less likely to use body cameras. Yet, many police departments recognize body cameras as important and it’s probable that a law (such as Kentucky’s House Bill 416) may eventually get passed.

Because we covered best practices in our article last year, there is no need to revisit them here. But, we do want to explore some of the issues and questions raised in the KLC article about body cameras.

1. Clarify body camera video policy to avoid “entertainment.”

In the KLC article, Louisville Police Officer Nick Jilek says, “Unfortunately, in the modern media world the release of body camera footage ends up being passed around social media. Body camera footage should not be used for entertainment purposes, which is what that ends up being, on the nightly news or social media sites.”

Without a clear policy, an open records request may legally expose embarrassing footage to the public. Even if your state lacks clear policies, your city can create body camera video policies around privacy.

2. Define and clarify the scenarios for which footage can be released.

Some states will define when you can release footage. If not, be clear about what situations you’re allowed to release footage and which situations don’t permit it. For example, in Georgia, “The law excludes body camera recordings from public records when they are taken in a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy and no criminal investigation is pending.”

3. Define who has the right to view video footage.

Body camera video footage authorization can vary depending on the person requesting it. Is it someone involved in law enforcement? An attorney? A family member of a deceased victim? The media? A citizen? Define rules around who can view what. For example, Arkansas has detailed rules that explain who can see video footage if a police officer is killed in the line of duty.

4. How do you answer time-intensive open records requests?

In the KLC article, Representative Robert Benvenuti (R-Lexington) is quoted as saying, “We cannot create a situation where officers are being pulled off the road to sit for hours and hours editing footage or redacting footage. We need them out on the road, protecting all of us, not sitting behind a desk trying to interpret the Open Records Act.”

However, the reality is that if a law says you must provide the record, then you must provide the record. To prevent the hassle of officers getting tied up in heavy, tedious video editing and redacting, additional staff may have to address this issue. That way, your officers can stay focused on their job while additional staff can help with the video archiving aspects of open records responses.

5. How do you keep costs low?

The KLC article goes on to summarize the thoughts of Campbell County Sheriff Mike Jansen who said “small departments like his worry about the costs. He told lawmakers the expense goes beyond buying the cameras, into storage fees and equipment and hiring additional personnel for editing and answering requests.”

Obviously, storage costs can grow high because of the sheer amount of video footage needing storage. Each police department is different and may require a customized solution that works for them. In some cases, a cloud storage option is best. In other cases, storing data in-house makes more sense. A good option that’s available and popular with cities is video archiving that includes unlimited storage at a fixed cost. That makes it easier to keep costs low and predictable. This solution also forms part of a city’s disaster recovery plan and ensures that video remains available even if a disaster (such as a fire or flooding) hits a city.

Despite the complexity of body camera issues, a well-thought out plan that accounts for policy and technology can alleviate most of your worries.

Questions about your body camera video policies and technology? Reach out to us today.