April 20, 2016
Provisions of the law that are a step in the right direction:
- The law makes an effort to balance police accountability and privacy concerns, as it places some restrictions on the release of video footage.
- The law does not discourage the use of body-worn cameras by police departments and should not cause departments to abandon programs that are in place or are being developed.
- Encouraging the use of body-worn cameras by police is generally seen as a win-win for the public and for police, because this footage can provide evidence in situations where police use deadly or excessive force, and has been shown to reduce the number of adverse encounters between the police and the public by promoting better behavior on all sides.
- Rather than requiring individuals to justify the need to view police camera video footage, police departments will be required to justify why video footage should not be released to an individual. This provision was amended into the law to fix previous versions that had placed the "burden of proof" to view video footage on the individuals requesting access.
Provisions of the law that cause concern:
- The law allows police departments to obscure sensitive information before the footage is released, such as images of confidential informants and undercover officers, nudity or personal medical information. While this provision may protect privacy, which we support, it does not address what should happen if a police officer alters video footage in a way that obscures other images that may be of public interest. In other jurisdictions, such as Seattle, redaction technology has been used to the point where the video is unintelligible. A "minimum redaction necessary to protect privacy" standard is needed.
- The law could allow police departments to conceal potentially incriminating video footage of a police shooting, beating or civil rights violation on some grounds, such as whether the footage affects an ongoing investigation, interferes with a fair trial or undercover informants or is otherwise not in "the public interest." While these are valid concerns, police departments must make sure the public is not unduly burdened by the length of time it takes to access the footage or routinely made to take these matters to court, which would be costly and harmful. In addition, in most cases, the grounds for protecting investigatory information (like not tipping off a suspect he is under investigation or not wanting to provide information about what the police know) does not apply to body camera footage showing a police use of force.
- Video copying fees, which could cost as much as $150, may be too burdensome for many people who need to view the video more than the two times allowed by the law.
We believe in the importance of transparency in policing as vital for establishing good relationships between police departments and the people they are sworn to protect and serve. During the process of passing HEA 1019, lawmakers stated that they would be willing to revisit the legislation and make changes to the law if needed. The ACLU of Indiana will continue to work with lawmakers and police departments to fine-tune this law to ensure it balances police accountability and privacy concerns.