Police Body Cameras: A Win-Win Situation?

26 Mar, 2015

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With the national spotlight turned to the police and their interactions with our nation’s communities, legislators and community leaders are attempting to find new ways to hold accountable all those who are involved in a disagreement with the police.  One tool being used to help in responsible policing is the body camera, a piece of technology that has the potential to affect criminal law in Kansas.

Conditions While Using Body Cameras

In early 2015, the Kansas state legislature introduced a bill that would require police officers to wear body cameras while on patrol.  Body cameras allow police officers and the accused to offer first-person, unbiased testimony in the form of a recording of the disputed events as evidence.  This would allow some of the “he-said-she-said” of criminal proceedings to be bypassed.  Some relevant provisions of the bill are:

  • The camera will begin rolling from the moment the officer comes on duty.  It may be turned off for personal conversations or duties, but it must be on during patrol.  This includes traffic stops, or random Terry stops (stop-and-frisks).
  • Whenever the situation allows, a police officer has to let you know that you are being recorded.  The word used in the bill is “practicable”.  You can imagine situations where it would not make sense to hold an officer to this requirement e.g. a shootout, or a high-speed chase.
  • When entering a private residence, police officers generally must inform the party that they are being recorded, and must seek permission to continue doing so.  If the resident requests that the officer not record, the officer must then stop recording.  The exchange between the officer and the resident concerning permission must also be recorded.  Additionally, a police officer does not have to obtain permission in certain emergency situations.
  • The recordings are generally required to be kept for a period of two weeks.  If the recording contains a use of force, or if it is a part of (or may become a part of) an ongoing investigation, then it must be kept for three years.
  • Certain individuals may request the recorded footage for review.  Individuals that have been recorded, parents of juveniles that have been recorded, attorneys, individuals involved in the crime caught by a recording, and individuals who have property that was damaged or taken away in relation to a crime caught by the recording may all submit a request for the footage.

Cost Concerns

Some legislators have tried to limit who is entitled to view the recorded footage, citing the costs of honoring every request for access.  A substitute bill was introduced earlier this month, which would limit access of the footage to people present in the recording, the parents of juveniles in the recording, and the attorneys of individuals in the recording.  A fee for each viewing was also proposed.  Such limitations have the potential to stifle the underlying purpose of the bill.

The hearing for the proposed substitute has since been cancelled, but it is unclear whether the fight for securing access to this information is totally over.  The proposed substitute has not been shot down; the process has merely been delayed.

A Powerful Tool

Access to recorded footage may prove to be a powerful tool in proving someone’s innocence.  Attorney Sarah Swain believes in using any and all tools possible to provide our clients the justice they deserve. We passionately believe in the importance ofa fair, unbiased trial to the accused, and adamantly fight for this right for each of our clients.  If you have been charged, or anticipate being charged with a crime, reach out to the Swain Law Firm today for a free consultation.

Photo Credit: Lisa-F/shutterstock.com