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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, January 26, 2016 3:51 pm

House approves body camera bill

Niki Kelly|The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana House voted 65-30 Tuesday to set up rules for accessing police video recordings that give wide discretion to police on when - if ever - to release them.

Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, said the bill is a balancing act between public information and transparency while recognizing the privacy rights of Hoosier citizens and police that might be in the recordings.

He said he doesn't want access to the recordings to be a deterrent to law enforcement agencies thinking of adding body cameras. The bill also covers dash cameras.

"I could be the victim of a crime or the victim of police misconduct and I feel comfortable with the bill," Mahan said.

But it has been criticized by the Hoosier State Press Association and the Indiana Broadcasters Association as giving law enforcement the power to release only the recordings that are positive.

It also places the burden to get the recording on someone asking for it unlike Indiana's other public records laws, which places the burden on government denying the request.

House Bill 1019 sets up two processes to get access.

Members of the public and the media would have to file a lawsuit and try to prove the public interest would be served with the release of a video. Even if the person or group wins, a judge is prohibited from giving them attorney's fees.

Secondly, people who are in the videos - or relatives and attorneys of someone now deceased in a video - can view the video twice but not get a copy. If law enforcement doesn't comply, the person would have to go to court and might be able to receive attorneys fees.

Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, disagreed strongly with that part of the bill that won't let family members of someone who has died in a police action to have a copy of the recording.

"If the family wants the video released they should have that right," she said. "The recordings are public records and should be available to the public without court action. Taxpayers already paid for the recordings."

The bill also sets up a retention schedule for how long police must maintain the video - which starts at 180 days and can go longer. And it requires that certain sensitive information be blurred or obscured in released video - such as nudity, dead bodies or the interior of private homes.

Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said the bill was a good first effort in dealing with an emerging technology.

All 11 northeast Indiana Republicans supported the measure. Fort Wayne Democrat Rep. Phil GiaQuinta voted no.

nkelly@jg.net