Lawmakers Eager for Statewide Policy on Police Body Cams

Image Credit: Tactical-Life.com
Image Credit: Tactical-Life.com

On Tuesday, lawmakers once again addressed the issue of possibly implementing a uniform statewide rule or law requiring the usage of body cameras by law enforcement when on duty.

Two things quickly became apparent as the hearing progressed: law enforcement officials are not opposed to the idea of body cameras, however, there are deep concerns by law enforcement about when the cameras should be on, how (and for how long) law enforcement agencies store data, where the money will come from, and how to protect the privacy of those being recorded at some of the lowest times in their lives.

Chair of the Administrative Rules Review Committee, Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper), made it clear that it was his intention to put into place a statewide policy for every agency, from the Utah Highway Patrol to the Myton Police Force, to not only have cameras, but also to have firm policies in place regulating the use of those cameras.

“The rights of protection of a person in a rural area are just as important as the rights of protection in a metropolitan area… police officers [also] have the right to be protected with evidence of their behavior as well,” Stephenson stated. He suggested the Department of Public Safety should have the ability to create statewide rules, rather than havinga patchwork of rules and regulations across the states.

Colonel Daniel Fuhr from the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) provided the committee with an idea of what any sort of policy may look like. Car dash cameras have been in use for over 20 years and have been a valuable tool, Fuhr would state, adding that body cameras have also provided invaluable over the past two years they have been used by the UHP in areas where dashboard cams are not applicable (such as for those who patrol the Capitol Building).

“There are a lot of perceptions out there that body cameras are good to hold officers accountable, that is such a small percentage of what we use our body cameras for. We use them for training, for audits, to make sure that there is good evidentiary information, but also to hold the public accountable as well.” Fuhr would say, noting that it protects all parties involved.

Fuhr did warn the committee that data storage will not be cheap. Currently UHP is working to set up a cloud-based storage system that has an initial cost of $600,000 and $130,00 to $180,000 in ongoing costs; though the UHP plans to sell storage space to smaller police agencies at a nominal fee. Fuhr went on to explain that the UHP follows state rules regarding the archival process – meaning that any criminal incident (such as DUI) is stored for ten years and any incident at all (such as a minor traffic violation) is stored for six months on the main server before moving to archives that would last for 2-3 years.

Fuhr would close his initial opening by stating that all videos are considered public information and fall under the rules of the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).

Though Fuhr would sing the praises of body cameras, the majority of the committee hearing focused on addressing concerns about when the cameras are off.

Stephenson expressed concern that UHP officers have the ability to turn body cameras on or off. Fuhr explained that the alternative posed logistical problems and would produce wasteful, and therefore expensive to store, data.

“I think that the difficult thing with this is that folks don’t understand how much the officers want these cameras on for their own personal safety,” Fuhr noted, adding that “I think the public is believing that you are going to want to turn off for this or that – if that occurs, you are going to see violations and departments will take care of it.”

Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) would take a different bend on the discussion.

“I do not see a lot [in UHP’s policy] about the rights of the recorded… but I do think we need to have a conversation about that,” Madsen suggested to the group.

A final action on a statewide policy, rule, or law on police body camera usage, data storage, and citizen rights may be months or years away. The committee is still exploring options and ideal routes to find a balance between the demands of the public and the practical realities of the technologies.

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