Police Body Cams Remain Hot Topic On Hill

cop barDiscussion surrounding the use of body cameras for police officers continued Wednesday as members of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee heard testimony weighing the benefits versus the costs to a change in state policy. Rather than imposing a statewide standard concerning how and when body cameras may be used, lawmakers are leaning toward requiring law enforcement agencies to come up with their own rules.

Both Senator Daniel Thatcher (Republican – West Valley City) and Representative Dan McCay (Republican – Riverton) are working on body camera bills for the upcoming session, though neither were formally debated Wednesday.

According to Thatcher, his bill will require police departments to develop their own policies specifying when officers must wear body cameras, when they should be activated, how usage will be tracked to ensure that officers are conforming to policy, and who may or may not review recordings, as well as how long tapes should be retained.

“I think that LaVerkin is going to have vastly different needs, wants, and desires than Salt Lake City,” Thatcher noted.

Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, representing Utah Chiefs of Police Association, feels that a fewer number of agencies will use body cameras if an “onerous policy” is mandated by the state. “We’ll have less body cameras on law enforcement, so it doesn’t really serve the purpose from those that want to see body cameras implemented.”

Senator Luz Escamilla (Democrat – Salt Lake City) is very concerned about the state taking a hands-off approach. “We learned a huge lesson with not having a statewide policy on police pursuits. We’ve been for the last couple of years because Ogden had a different policy on what to do when the police go on pursuits. We’ve been coming back every single year for the last four years addressing that issue, so I’m concerned. Why wouldn’t we have a statewide policy that covers everything from San Juan County all the way to Utah County or Salt Lake County so we make sure the standards are in place and we are giving them enough support so they know what we expect so we don’t end up with that situation.”

Representative Paul Ray (Republican – Clearfield) feels that leaving the issue in the hands of local authorities is the way to go. “If you want to really screw something up, you give it to government because we’re really good at screwing stuff up. Logan isn’t the same as St. George or Salt Lake City. My city of Clinton, my city of Sunset is not the same as the city of Bountiful; you have to allow differences. You have a department that has eight police officers. You have departments that have 800 police officers. You’ve got to give those departments the ability to create their own policy that will work in the realm of the type of policing that they are doing, the amount of officers they have, and the way the society is where they police at.”

Josh Daniels, policy analyst for the Libertas Institute, asked lawmakers to ensure that consistent policies are adopted regarding privacy rights, transparency, evidence collected, retention, and access.

McCay would end by saying that, ultimately, it comes down to setting appropriate minimum standards for law enforcement agencies to follow. “The question really is how do you keep private what is private and what is not private? We’re working within the evidentiary standards trying to determine what can you keep out and what is a permissible record and what is not. We don’t have a clean solution for it yet. Candidly, that is the crux of what I’m most concerned about in the bill is making sure that we deal with that in a way that balances those interests and makes sure that everyone in the public is protected while they’re being recorded, potentially in their private residence.”

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