TOPEKA, Kansas – More and more police are wearing body cameras. But a push by some Kansas lawmakers to restrict access to the video footage is turning out to be a fight.
“I do understand the need to balance privacy with accountability,” says Representative Gail Finney, D-Wichita. “But I think this bill is just a little bit too broad.”
Finney believes there needs to be significant changes to the legislation.
Current law allows for public access to police body camera video. Public access would be restricted under the new bill to attorneys, and, eventually, those who are on the video.
“And if there is a use of force where a person is even killed by the police the family, I believe, should be able to access that video. And this bill doesn’t allow that in any way,” says Finney.
Other lawmakers argue the change in who gets to see police cam video would keep privacy in place.
KSN asked a local attorney who specializes in civil rights, where the balance lies for access to police video.
“It’s definitely a First Amendment issue and there’s a certain amount of desire on the public’s part to know what’s going on.” says Wichita attorney Kurt Kerns. “And really the issue becomes, why should we hide it?”
Kerns says there are some instances where publicly releasing police video could damage a trial. But he says accountability by law enforcement should be considered by lawmakers.
“I hope they take their time and consider, carefully, a balance between the public and the police,” says Kerns.
Other lawmakers say it’s a matter of privacy, and helping integrity of police investigations.
“It classifies body camera footage as criminal investigation, investigative research evidence,” says Representative John Whitmer, R-Wichita. “So because of that now it’s going to be a little more restricted to general public access.”
Whitmer says there are provisions for families and attorney involved to see the video. But outside public viewing would not be allowed.
“We don’t really have existing statutes on body camera (video) because it hasn’t been as prolific as it’s going to be,” says Whitmer. “But you’re trying to balance the rights of the folks to see the evidence and protect investigative research and, particularly, the identities of folks who may be cooperating with law enforcement.”
Look for updates here and KSN News at 6 p.m.