Sunday, October 9, 2016

2015 Interim: Police & Body Cameras

Police procedure, body cameras, and how and when to implement camera use have been hot topics nationally for the past year.  Other states and cities have been flash points for the difficult infancy of body camera use. However, several southern Utah towns have been quietly working toward implementing the use of body cameras and their experience will inform the discussion and implementation as other law enforcement agencies throughout Utah purchase and deploy cameras.

While this technology and its impact on the public and law enforcement is very new, it clearly has an important role to play in our digital age.  Already there are anecdotal reports about how the presence of a camera modifies behaviors of both law enforcement and the public in de-escalating tense situations.  Like all new technologies, at first its presence can be very disruptive as one figures out how to best use the new tool.

This year I’m serving as the co-chair of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee with Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross).  We have decided that the issue of body camera use will be a topic our committee studies this year. My hope is that we can bring forward a consensus bill in the 2016 General Session that will provide statewide guidance for these cameras.  Issues like data storage and security, requests for footage by the media or other interested parties, direction for law enforcement offices on when to use cameras, and how to ensure privacy of citizens are just a few of the items I expect the committee to discuss.  We will be consulting with the law enforcement, attorneys on rules of evidence, and the public on how to best put this tool into use.

In our May committee meeting we heard many points of view from various legislators and interested parties about what items might be best as statewide, universal standards and other items that might be better decided at the local level where law enforcement agencies can vary widely by size, sophistication, and geographic territory.  One of the major items we must tackle is how to store the sheer volume of data the cameras will generate. It is true we are getting better and better at compressing data and making it more affordable to store, but the cameras could generate several terabytes a week of data that will compound based on how long we require the records be kept and how many cameras an agency has in the field. That could get very expensive for a moderately sized police department quickly.

As we continue to study the issue over the coming months, I’m looking forward to first hand reports from the departments in southern Utah that have cameras and from the public on the results they see or the concerns they want addressed. We in southern Utah will have a unique ability to shape this policy and technology. Please be part of the discussion this summer and provide us your feedback for the benefit of the entire state.

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