Indiana lawmakers debate whether to restrict access to police body camera video

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INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 26, 2015) – Indiana state lawmakers are debating whether to restrict access to police body caerma video.

The topic comes as Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s 2016 budget proposal includes $200,000 for body cams for IMPD officers. Overall it would cost $2-3 million to equip all 900 officers, but the mayor is anticipating grant money will help cover the cost.

Metro police saw their first true test earlier this year when it released portions of a police action shooting involving officers who shot and killed Mack Long. More than 60 IMPD officers we wearing body cams for a trail period during the police action shooting.

“If you can release bits and pieces of it, why can’t you release the entire video?” Debbie Long testified before lawmakers Wednesday.

Mack Long’s widow is still calling for the full video to be released.

“If it was shown in its raw version, along with the audio, a lot of questions that were raised would be answered,” she said. “I know that from the pieces I saw.”

As part of a summer study committee, lawmakers are working to set guidelines about when body cam video should be made public and what circumstances are deemed appropriate for the videos to remain secret.

“There’s going to be a lot of information that’s going to end out there that’s not protected that’s going to end up exposed to the public view,” Sgt. Brad Hoffeditz said, legal counsel for the Indiana State Police.

Concerns range from identifying undercover officers to victims of serious crimes or information deemed highly personal, for both officers and citizens.

The contrary is transparency, for taxpayers and police.

“I would have paid millions of dollars to have a video of that because it would have saved generational relationships that we could have salvaged,” Jeff Halstead testified. Halstead is a former police chief in Fort Worth, Texas.

State Sen. Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville), who chairs the interim study committee on government overseeing the review, said decisions over whether to buy police body cams and when officers must use them will be left to local police and municipalities.

State lawmakers hope to draft a uniform state-wide policy on who can watch police body cam video and when.

“It just gives all of us as a society more information,” Bray said. “And we talked in detail, at times it will exonerate officers if there’s accusations there, or it will make a criminal case a little stronger.”

Lawmakers will hear more testimony this fall from law enforcement and technology experts before any legislation is drafted for the new session beginning in January.