By Rachel Hoffmeyer
INDIANAPOLIS — Whether to automatically release police body camera video in a case of possible excessive use of force or civil rights violations is up for debate.
House Bill 1019 allows law enforcement to keep a video private if they can prove it needs to be confidential for reasons including an ongoing investigation or the possibility that it could interfere with a person receiving a fair trial.
But the bill’s author Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, is uncomfortable with the changes a Senate committee made requiring video to be automatically released to the public if it shows excessive use of force or a civil rights violation.
“We’re giving the accused the opportunity to not be tried in a court of public opinion when they’re caught on police video and during an investigation,” said Mahan during Friday’s conference committee. “I also believe our law enforcement brethren should also be given that same right.”
Mahan proposed an amendment to remove the language requiring the automatic release, which would leave the decision in the hands of law enforcement. If a person disagrees with an agency’s decision, they would have to appeal the decision to a judge.
But Indiana media associations were unpleased that a person could be forced to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars in court fighting to get a video released.
“We would hope that this group would be able to agree that there are certain incidents that it’s in the public’s best interest that the information is kind of, almost automatically released so there is no question of any kind of conspiracy,” said Stephen Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association.
The current language, however, has law enforcement nervous, according to representative for the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski.
“My fear, is if we leave that language in… this language in 5.2 would cause body worn cameras in Indiana to be shelved,” said Dombkowski. “That is obviously not the goal.”
Mahan promised to revise the legislation next year if the measure is misused by law enforcement agencies. Discussions surrounding the change are expected to continue.
Rachel Hoffmeyer is the executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.